Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Sneezes, runny noses may be signs of seasonal allergies

6/10/2021 by Debra Baum, P.A.-C.


With warmer weather, the colors of fresh foliage, flowers and outdoor fun, many are facing the onset of symptoms of seasonal allergies, allergic rhinitis, hay fever or allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. 

If you have seasonal allergies, you may experience several of these symptoms: 

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Runny nose 
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy nose or back of the throat
  • Cough

Why do you have these symptoms when others do not?

Allergy symptoms are caused by the body's immune response to environmental allergens such as plant pollen, and then your body releases histamines that cause seasonal allergy symptoms. 

Different pollens or allergens tend to be in the air at fairly predictable times of the year: 

  • Tree pollens tend to cause trouble in the spring, and grasses in the late spring and early summer. 
  • Ragweed — a roadside weed — causes issues in the late summer and fall. 
  • Other common environmental allergens are perennial, including indoor and outdoor fungal spores, dust mites, pet dander and cockroaches. These allergens can cause symptoms on and off all year for some people with allergies. 

The best way to decrease or avoid symptoms is to avoid pollen or allergens and disrupt the response your body has to them with antihistamine medications. 

Avoiding allergens

To avoid allergens: 

  • Watch local weather reports and forecasts, as pollen counts vary day to day, and avoid outdoor activities on high pollen count days. Windy weather spreads pollen farther, and pollen counts tend to be higher in the morning. 
  • If you like to spend time outdoors, once you are inside, be sure to shower and change clothes. 
  • Keep the windows closed and the air conditioning on, use a furnace filter, and consider a bedroom air purification with a HEPA filter. Air humidity should be kept around 30%–50%. 
  • If you don't want to miss out on the fresh air, keep your windows closed in the evening hours and overnight to decrease the amount of pollen coming in your home. 

Decreasing symptoms

To decrease symptoms, stop the body's histamine release as much as you can. Several medications available over the counter can help. For best results, start taking them before you are exposed to your allergens. 

These medicines are called antihistamines. The most common side effect is drowsiness, but newer antihistamines may cause less drowsiness. These include loratadine (Claritin), desloratadine (Clarinex), cetirizine (Zyrtec), levocetirizine (Xyzal), and fexofenadine (Allegra). 

If you have been cleared by your health care provider to take antihistamines, follow the package dosing instructions. More medication will not give you more symptom relief and could be dangerous. 

Other medications and remedies

Other medications and remedies that can supply relief include: 

  • Saline nasal rinses with a nasal rinse bottle or neti pot plus saline packets made for this purpose and distilled water. 
  • Intranasal steroids like fluticasone (Flonase), triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort) and budesonide (Rhinocort). 
  • Topical eye antihistamines like ketotifen fumarate (Zaditor or Alaway) for eye symptoms. Oral antihistamines don't relieve eye symptoms. Be sure to discuss how to use these medications with your eye doctor first. 

If you have other symptoms that are not listed above, or severe or unusual symptoms, consider whether you should visit with your health care provider or an allergist to make sure you are experiencing seasonal allergies. Prescriptions also are available. Your health care provider may recommend being tested to determine which allergens cause your symptoms to help you better avoid them. Some people also are evaluated for immunotherapy by an allergist if symptoms are severe. 

Debra Baum, P.A.-C., is a physician assistant in the Department of Family Medicine. She practices at Mayo Family Clinic Southeast in Rochester, Minnesota. Her interests in medicine include ear, nose and throat; infectious diseases; and gastroenterology. She enjoys outdoor activities, sports and family leisure.