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How to get through allergy season

Seasonal allergies are getting worse. These solutions can help you ease sneezing, sniffling and itchy eyes.

Kate Rockwood By Kate Rockwood

Pollen, grass, ragweed — if just reading those words makes you feel itchy, you’re not alone. More than 24 million Americans deal with the itching, sneezing and sniffling that allergy season brings.1 And the word “season” is misleading, because it’s really more like three out of four seasons a year.

In fact, seasonal allergies (also called hay fever and seasonal allergic rhinitis) can hit in spring, summer or early fall, when grasses and trees release pollen into the air.2 Unfortunately, allergy seasons are getting worse and lasting longer, according to a 2021 study.3

Luckily, you can do plenty to take charge of your allergy symptoms. Here’s our simple guide to outsmarting allergy season.


Make sure it’s allergies

It’s natural to wonder whether your allergy-like symptoms could be from a cold or a case of COVID-19 or the flu. There’s a lot of overlap, says Corinna Bowser, MD, an allergist and founder of Suburban Allergy Consultants in Greater Philadelphia. For instance, both seasonal allergies and COVID-19 can cause congestion, runny nose, cough and fatigue.

One telltale sign of allergies is that they tend to be worse at certain times of day, such as in the morning and evening, says Joshua Davidson, MD, an allergist and immunologist in Redondo Beach, CA. COVID-19, on the other hand, often comes with fever, severe fatigue, body aches and sometimes a loss of taste and smell. If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, try to rule out (or confirm) COVID-19 or the flu with a test. Or call your primary care provider to discuss your symptoms.


Identify your allergy triggers

Even if you didn’t have allergies growing up, you can develop them as an adult at any time. Step one is to find out what’s causing your symptoms. “In order to most effectively prevent seasonal allergies, it is helpful to first identify your allergic triggers,” Dr. Davidson says.

Often you can figure it out yourself by paying attention to when your symptoms flare up and keeping an eye on local allergen levels. Weather websites and apps often share local pollen counts. You can check to see what’s in the air near you when your nose and eyes start to water.

If it’s still a mystery, allergy testing can be done by your doctor with a skin prick test or sometimes a simple blood test. Knowing that you’re allergic to grasses, weeds or molds, for instance, makes it a lot easier to know what to avoid.


Plan your time outside

When you’re allergic to pollen, it makes sense to stay inside when pollen counts are high. The amount of pollen in the air is typically high in the morning, dips in midafternoon and can sometimes rise again in the evening. Try to plan your outdoor trips during off-peak pollen hours. And when you’re at home, keep your windows closed to keep out pollen.

It's also best to exercise indoors when pollen is high. All that huffing and puffing could mean inhaling a lot of allergens. Be especially careful on dry, windy days, when pollen more easily flies around. When you do go outside, wear a mask. This helps keep pollen from entering your nose and mouth.


Wash away allergens

As careful as you might be, outside allergens have a way of getting inside your home. They stick to clothes, shoes and even pet fur. If you suspect you’re bringing allergens inside, put your clothes in the laundry when you get home and change into something clean. Even better, take a shower and wash your hair. You can even wash inside your nose with a saline spray or a neti pot.

Other tips for keeping your home allergen free: Wash your sheets once a week, says Dr. Davidson, so you don’t sleep with allergens that make their way to your bedroom. With pets, try wiping down their fur with a damp cloth after they’ve been outdoors to remove stuck-on pollen.


Take the right allergy medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines can help with sneezing and itching, says David Shulan, MD, a retired allergist who lives in Florida. But they don’t really help with congestion. For that, nasal sprays come in handy. And some that used to be prescription-only are now available over the counter.

Dr. Shulan points out that many of these nasal sprays are steroids, which don’t work right away. Usually, you need to take them for up to two weeks to get their full effect. If OTC medications aren’t working or cause nosebleeds, your doctor may prescribe something else. Or they may recommend allergy shots. These are spread out over a few years and can be very effective.

People with certain conditions should consult their doctor before taking allergy medications:

  • If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, glaucoma or thyroid or prostate issues, decongestants are generally not recommended.
  • If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, avoid medications that combine antihistamines with decongestants. Together, they can raise your blood pressure and heart rate. If the name of an allergy medication has a D after it, that usually means it has both.


Whatever allergy medication you take, take it early

Experts agree: Don’t wait until your symptoms are bothering you to begin taking your allergy medication. If you know when your seasonal allergies tend to kick in each year, map out a plan with your health care provider so that you can start your medications before then. “The longer you wait, the harder it is to treat your symptoms,” Dr. Bowser says.


Talk to your doctor

It’s always important to see your doctor to figure out the best and safest way to reduce your allergy symptoms, says Dr. Davidson. “An allergist is best suited to consider side effects, medication or chronic condition interactions that might present themselves. And they can educate patients regarding the best means to avoid their triggers.”


1National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Allergies and hay fever. December 13, 2021. Accessed June 13, 2022.

2American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Allergy facts. Accessed June 13, 2022.

3Anderegg WRL, Abatzoglou JT, Anderegg LDL, et al. Anthropogenic climate change is worsening North American pollen seasons. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. February 16, 2021; 118(7): e2013284118.



This material is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Health information programs provide general health information and are not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment by a physician or other health care professional. Contact a health care professional with any questions or concerns about specific health care needs. Providers are independent contractors and are not agents of Aetna. Provider participation may change without notice. Aetna is not a provider of health care services and, therefore, cannot guarantee any results or outcomes. The availability of any particular provider cannot be guaranteed and is subject to change. Information is believed to be accurate as of the production date; however, it is subject to change. For more information about Aetna plans, refer to our website.


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