How to Survive Spring Allergy Season

Medically Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on January 31, 2016
4 min read

Every spring, Denise Wilson tweaks her daily routine. Instead of running outdoors, she hits the gym. She puts on the air conditioner rather than open a window for fresh air. And she tucks her contacts into a drawer and switches to eyeglasses.

Wilson, 46, a public relations exec in Brooklyn, NY, says these are absolute musts if she's going to get through allergy season.

Otherwise she's bombarded with congestion, coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, an irritated throat, and asthma brought on by exercise.

"I usually don't let myself get to that point anymore," Wilson says. Instead of waiting for symptoms to blossom, she starts her allergy medicine before the season begins.

She's on to something. When you use meds early you may ease your symptoms all spring, says Bela B. Faltay, MD, chief of service of allergy at Akron General Health System, in Ohio. "With a week or 2 lead time, you'll feel better all season."

High season usually kicks into gear when the thermometer hits 60 degrees for 3-4 days. When that happens, pollen from plants starts moving through the air -- and your allergy misery begins. It depends on where you live, but that's typically early April. To get a head start, try taking medication in mid- to late March.

To get one the right one, it might take a bit of trial and error. A drug that works great for your neighbor may be a bust for you.

Antihistamines. These can help if you're sneezing, have a runny nose, or your nose and eyes are itchy. Some that might cut your misery:

Some antihistamines may make you drowsy. Find out what your doctor recommends.

Decongestants. They can come to the rescue when you're all stuffed because they shrink the lining of the passages in your nose. You can try a nasal spray or a pill. Some options to choose from:

Decongestants work fast, but they can lead to a "rebound effect," which means your symptoms may get worse from using them too much. "They can be great in a pinch, once in a while," Faltay says. To stay safe, stop using them after 3 days.

Nasal corticosteroid sprays. You spritz them into your nose, and they can give you relief from stuffiness and sneezing. But they may take a few days or weeks to kick in. Examples are:

Eyedrops. They work fast -- about 15 to 20 minutes -- when your eyes are itchy and watery. And they may prevent symptoms, too. But for some folks, they may cause stinging or a headache.

Some you can try are:

You may want to look into these if meds don't get the job done. Your doctor will give you a series of injections -- over months or years -- that contain a little bit of the pollen you're allergic to. Just like getting a vaccine, your body builds up a defense system that keeps pollen from causing symptoms.

Don't expect instant results. "It's a very slow fix," Faltay says. "It takes 6 months to a year to see reliable effects." You'll probably stay on them for 3-5 years. After that, your body will keep ignoring your allergy trigger.

Nasal irrigation. That's just a fancy way to say rinse out your nose with salty water. It can be a huge help when you're all stuffed up. Put a saline mix -- either store-bought or homemade -- into a neti pot, bulb syringe, or squeeze bottle, and then flush out your nasal passages. To make your own rinse, mix 3 heaping teaspoons of iodide-free salt with 1 rounded teaspoon of baking soda. Then add it to 1 cup of lukewarm distilled water or boiled water after it's cooled down.

Acupuncture. Some studies, but not all, suggest it eases symptoms. If you try it, experts recommend you begin 2 months before allergy season kicks off.

Herbs. Some people swear by herbal remedies like goldenseal, butterbur, and stinging nettle. But they're not proven to work and may trigger side effects.

Want to get to the bottom of which types of pollen trigger your symptoms? Try allergy testing.

With a skin test, your doctor pricks your arm with different things that cause allergies and waits for a reaction. If you get redness and swelling, you're allergic. Or you can get a blood test.

No matter the trigger, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Pay attention to pollen counts, stay inside when you can, and shower after being outdoors, Faltay says.