Certain seasons cause people with seasonal allergies to experience temporary yet uncomfortable and irritating symptoms. There are several allergy medications to help treat seasonal allergies.
For example, flowers and budding leaves during springtime may cause runny noses, watery eyes, and coughing in people with seasonal allergies.
More than 50 million Americans experience allergies every year. Seasonal allergies — also called hay fever and allergic rhinitis — can range from mild to severe. They may lead to other health issues and interfere with school, work, and leisure.
Several over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines can help treat seasonal allergies. However, the best medication for a person with seasonal allergies depends on their symptoms, personal preferences, and health.
This article discusses seasonal allergies and medications to alleviate symptoms. It also explores other treatments for seasonal allergies and severe allergic reactions.
To discover more evidence-based information and resources for asthma & allergies, visit our dedicated hub.
People may also refer to seasonal allergies as hay fever, pollen allergy, or seasonal allergic rhinitis.
As with other allergies, seasonal allergies develop when a person’s immune system overreacts to an allergen in the environment.
An allergen is anything that triggers an immune response. The body identifies these particles as dangerous and releases histamines and other chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals produce allergy symptoms.
Pollens are common triggers of seasonal allergies. During spring, summer, or fall, certain plants release tiny pollen particles into the air to fertilize other plants. They may travel into a person’s eyes, nose, and lungs and cause allergy symptoms.
A person with seasonal allergy only shows symptoms when the pollens they are allergic to are in the air. These symptoms include:
- runny nose
- red, watery eyes
- nasal congestion
- itchy eyes, nose, ears, and mouth
- swelling around the eyes
Aside from asking a person to avoid staying outdoors when pollen counts are high, healthcare professionals may recommend medications to help relieve symptoms:
Antihistamines help relieve sneezing and itching of the eyes and nose. They also reduce runny noses, watery eyes, and nasal congestion.
There are two groups of antihistamines: Those that make people drowsy, such as diphenhydramine, and those less likely to cause drowsiness, such as cetirizine.
Antihistamines come in liquid, tablet, and nasal spray forms. However, nasal sprays are only available through prescription. Nondrowsy antihistamines are available OTC and through prescription. Antihistamine eye drops can also soothe watery or itchy eyes.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays
These medications reduce swelling in the mucous membranes to help relieve nasal symptoms such as a stuffed, itchy, and runny nose.
However, these drugs do not take effect immediately and may take 1–2 weeks to improve symptoms. Therefore, a person needs to take them daily to experience their full benefit.
Common OTC nasal sprays include fluticasone and budesonide.
These reduce the inflammation and swelling in the membranes lining the nose and the sinuses. This relieves itching, stuffiness, watery eyes, and other allergy symptoms.
These medications narrow the blood vessels in the lining of the nose.
Doctors recommend them for short-term use, typically no longer than
- high blood pressure
- enlarged prostate
- liver, kidney, heart, or circulation issues
These medications can cause adverse side effects, including increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, and irritability.
These drugs are available in both OTC and prescription and come in oral and nasal spray forms. Some allergy medications combine decongestants with antihistamines.
Leukotriene receptor antagonists
Doctors prescribe leukotriene receptor antagonists to help relieve asthma and hay fever symptoms. They may cause minor side effects such as headaches and tiredness.
Chromones, or mast cell stabilizers,
Doctors typically prescribe them to prevent symptoms from occurring, but they can also relieve existing symptoms. They may leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth and irritate the lining of the nose.
A nasal spray works best if a person takes it before exposure to allergens. A person usually needs to take it 3–6 times per day, and it may take several weeks for the medication to work.
For some people, avoiding allergens and taking medications may not be enough. In this case, doctors may recommend immunotherapy.
Subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT)
Allergen immunotherapy is a form of immunotherapy where a person receives injections of a particular allergen in gradually increasing doses. Allergy shots work by helping a person become sensitized or immune to the allergen.
The standard course of treatment involves weekly injections for 2–3 months until a person reaches the maximum dose. After which, they may only need once-a-month injections for the next 3–5 years.
Many people get complete relief from their allergy symptoms within 1–3 years and continue to feel the benefits several years after their last shot.
Sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT)
Another form of allergen immunotherapy involves administering allergen sublingually, or under the tongue. A person takes it daily before and during the pollen season.
These drugs are only available by prescription. Only three types of sublingual tablets have Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) approval.
A 2020 multicenter study found that SLIT for Artemisia annua was effective and safe for Artemisia annua-induced allergic rhinitis. However, SLIT may have more local side effects than SCIT.
SCIT and SLIT are both effective for people with seasonal allergies.
In some severe cases, allergies may escalate and trigger a life threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Anyone with a history of any kind of allergic reaction, such as hay fever, is at risk of anaphylaxis. It can occur at any time.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:
- swelling of the face or mouth
- fast, shallow breathing
- a fast heart rate
- clammy skin
- anxiety or confusion
- blue or white lips
- fainting or loss of consciousness
If someone has these symptoms:
- Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.
- Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
- Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.
- Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.
Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.
Seasonal allergies can be uncomfortable and irritating. Symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and itchy and watery eyes during certain seasons may be a sign of seasonal allergies.
A person may consider speaking to a doctor to determine what triggers the allergic reaction. This can help identify the best treatment for them.
If a person has a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, they should seek emergency medical treatment immediately.