Ten Tips To Treat Seasonal Allergies

Seasonal allergies tend to peak in the spring, when plants are blooming and blossoming, and in the fall, when leaves are dropping from trees and plants are wilting in preparation for winter.  

Allergies happen when the body’s immune system treats an allergen (like pollen, ragweed, mold or dust) as a dangerous intruder.  The immune system kicks into high gear, causing inflammation in the eyes, nasal passages, sinuses, mouth, throat and airway. This inflammation triggers the nasal nerves that cause sneezing, and also prompts an increase in fluid production in the eyes and nose to literally try to drown out the allergen the body perceives as a threat.

Lots of patients come to us to find relief from the allergy symptoms they experience during this time of year.  

The bad news is that allergens are ubiquitous, and can cause significant complications like worsening asthma symptoms, sinus infections and difficulty concentrating.   The good news is there are lots of simple tips patients can follow to find relief from these symptoms and enjoy the beauty each new season brings.

1. Take an antihistamine.

Antihistamines work by turning off the production of the histamine cells that are responsible for allergy symptoms.  There are two main classes of antihistamines -- first generation and second generation. First generation antihistamines (including Benadryl) tend to cause significant drowsiness.  Second generation antihistamines (including Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra) rarely cause drowsiness, so it’s easier for patients to find allergy relief during the day without experiencing drowsiness and fatigue.

2. Use a nasal steroid spray.

Nasal steroid sprays (like Flonase and Nasonex) used to be prescription-only.  But now they’re over-the-counter medications! These sprays are easy to take -- 2 sprays in each nostril once a day.  They work by depositing topical steroids into the nasal passages, decreasing the inflammation that causes sneezing, sinus congestion and runny noses.

3. Use antihistamine eye drops.

Allergens often affect patients’ eyes, causing swelling of the eyelids, redness, itching, and increased tear production.  Now patients can find antihistamine eye drops (like Zaditor) over the counter! When patients keep the drops in the fridge and instill them into their eyes when the drops are cold, they find even more relief from the intense itching that allergic conjunctivitis can cause.

4. Exercise early in the morning or later in the evening.

Pollen counts usually rise in the late morning and peak in the early afternoon, which means exercising outdoors in the middle of the day can be problematic for people with allergies.  For patients who exercise outdoors, allergists recommend exercising in the early morning, or around sunset, since pollen counts are lower at those times of day.

5. Use a HEPA filter in your air conditioner.

Patients who use air conditioners should be sure to have a HEPA filter installed in it  to prevent allergens from being blown into their home when the AC comes on. Preliminary studies have  shown that using a fine filter in an air conditioner is more effective in lowering airborne allergens than using an air purifier.

6. Wear a mask when doing yard work.

We recommend patients wear an N95 mask at all times when they’re mowing the lawn, gardening, picking flowers or weeding.  This prevents allergens from getting into the mouth, nasal passages and airway. High-quality masks can be purchased for just a few dollars at most gardening stores, and they make a big difference!

7. Wash your hair and change your clothes when you come inside.

Pollen often clings to hair and clothing.   When patients come inside, they can often track allergens through their home if they don’t change their clothes.  They can also get pollen on their pillow and sheets, and breathe allergens all night long, if they don’t wash their hair before bedtime.  By changing clothes and washing their hair immediately after coming inside, patients can decrease their exposure to problematic allergens.

8. Wash your pet frequently.

Just like pollen clings to humans’ hair and clothing, it also clings to pets’ fur.  By frequently washing their pets, patients can decrease the amount of pollen that gets tracked into the home by their furry friends.

9. Eat honey.

Honey is great for several reasons.  First, it’s an effective cough suppressant --  it’s actually just as effective as over-the-counter cough suppressants you can find at the drug store.  Second, it has mild anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe the effects of allergy-related inflammation.  Also, local honey contains local allergens. By ingesting frequent, small doses, the immune system can become desensitized to these allergens, diminishing the allergic symptoms you experience.   (Note that honey should not be given to children under age 1.)

10. Wear sunglasses.

Sunglasses help to protect the eyes from the harmful effects of UV rays.  But they also help to protect the eyes from airborne allergens. By wearing sunglasses at all times during outdoor activities, patients can help prevent allergic conjunctivitis and the discomfort of itchy, watery eyes.


At GGUC, we’re here 7 days a week to care for you!  If you need help managing your allergies -- or any other medical issue -- make an appointment online or simply walk into any of our 6 locations to get the care you need.

Sarah Thebarge MMSc, PA-C Sarah Thebarge earned her physician assistant degree at Yale School of Medicine, and then studied journalism at Columbia School of Journalism. She has been a physician assistant and a freelance journalist since 2004. In addition to caring for patients at Golden Gate Urgent Care, Sarah frequently volunteers her medical skills in the developing world. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post, USA Today and National Geographic, and her blog was featured on MSNBC.com. She is the author of the memoir The Invisible Girls and the upcoming book WELL: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa. She currently lives in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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