Yale Health

Allergy Tips

Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis and Conjunctivitis

(Runny nose, nasal congestion and itchy, red, watery eyes)

Do you suffer from frequent sneezing, nasal congestion, post-nasal drip, itchy palate and throat or runny nose?

Are you bothered by itchy, watery, red and swollen eyes?

If so, we know that pollen season has arrived.

There are specific measures you can begin prior to seeing our allergist for a consultation to determine which specific allergens are causing your symptoms. These measures can assist in making you feel more comfortable in the days and weeks prior to your appointment with the allergist.

If you think outdoor allergies are getting worse, you may be correct. Recent studies suggest that increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide levels are causing spring seasons to arrive sooner.

Trees usually begin pollinating in mid-March and end in late May, but may be pollinating sooner because of global warming.  Grass and spring weed pollens start to appear in early May and continue through early summer.

Eliminating or decreasing allergens is the best way to avoid symptoms.

Here are some simple tips that can help you avoid symptoms while still enjoying the great outdoors:

  • Keep windows in your home and car closed as much as possible to prevent pollen from drifting in.

  • The best times to be outdoors are when pollen levels are lowest. Peak pollination occurs for a few hours after sunrise and during the hours after sunset.

  • Enjoy the outdoors on rainy, cloudy and windless days.  Pollen is minimized when these weather conditions exist.

  • If gardening, avoid touching your face and especially eyes.

  • Shower after spending time outdoors. Pollen tends to collect in your hair and skin and ends up on your pillow which may worsen symptoms long after your exposure.

  • Use air conditioning to filter pollen from the air in your home.

  • Avoid activities that cause pollen to reenter the air such as lawn mowing or leaf blowing or use a facial mask and goggles if unable to avoid this contact during these activities.

  • Wear a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses to reduce the amount of pollen that blows into your eyes.

  • Apply and rinse your eyes with saline eye drops after being outdoors to wash away pollen.

  • Saline sinus rinses can bring much relief to those with chronic sinus or rhinitis problems by removing pollen from the nasal and sinus passages. Saline sinus rinse products can be purchased at the Yale Health Pharmacy or any local pharmacy.  Use products as directed.

Frequently, we instruct you to begin a preventive medication regimen in early March if you have a known pollen allergy. Symptoms can often be more easily controlled if medications are started prior to the pollen season.

Some medications for allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis are best used on a daily basis to control inflammation and prevent symptoms.   Over the counter oral anti histamines and eye drops can be effective in relieving mild to moderate symptoms.

Antihistamines in the form of pills or nasal sprays block histamine and may relieve itching, sneezing, and a runny nose.  A common and effective over-the-counter oral antihistamine is Cetirizine, in 10mg tablets, taken once a day at bedtime. Sometimes the antihistamines alone may not relieve or reduce nasal stuffiness. You may want to consult with your clinician if these medications are not effective, Decongestants or steroid nasal sprays may be used if nasal stuffiness or congestion is not relieved with above medications. Decongestants should not be used for long periods of time, usually not beyond 3-5 days, to prevent congestion from reoccurring.

Over-the-counter antihistaminic eye drops are recommended for short-term treatment of eye allergy symptoms.  Ophthalmic ketotifen eye drops, one drop twice a day, may be effective in controlling mild to moderate symptoms.  In addition, saline eye drops may be effective in rinsing the pollen from the eyes, and refrigerating the drops prior to usage may be soothing to the eyes. These can be used prior to antihistaminic eye drops and during the day when outdoors.

Consult your primary care clinician to determine which medications are right for you.