For some people, spring is the most beautiful time of the year. Flowers bloom, trees green up, and warmer weather finally lets them leave their winter cocoon. Yet for others, spring is a misery of sneezing, runny eyes, and itching from all the pollen in the air. These symptoms are known as hay fever, or allergic rhinitis.
You get allergic rhinitis from breathing in something you're allergic to. It could be pollen from the trees or grass, dust you stir up with your broom, or your cat's fur. The substance you're allergic to is called an allergen.
If you have allergies, there's a good chance you inherited them from your parents. Allergic rhinitis is often passed down through families, especially the mother.
If you have allergic rhinitis, you may sneeze and have a runny nose, teary eyes, and itchiness on your face or other parts of your body. You may also cough, have a headache, lose some of your sense of smell, and feel generally, out of it.
Allergy testing can figure out what it is you're allergic to. The most common test puts a small amount of different allergens under your skin, to see if the area swells up and turns red. That's called a skin test. Or, your doctor may look for certain allergy-related substances in your blood.
So, what can you do to treat your allergies?
The obvious way to deal with allergies is to avoid whatever causes them. Stay indoors with the air conditioning on days when pollen counts are high, keep your house clean of dust, and give your cat to a good friend if you can't be around her without sneezing.
To clear out clogged sinuses, you can use a nasal wash that you either buy at your local drugstore, or make a wash by mixing a cup of warm water with a half-teaspoon of salt and a pinch of baking powder.
You can also relieve your symptoms with antihistamines like Claritin and Zyrtec, which block the chemical in your body that causes the allergic reaction. Decongestants may relieve nasal congestion, and steroid drugs bring down swelling in the nose. Your doctor may recommend allergy shots to get your body used to the substance so it doesn't make you sneeze.
Don't ignore allergy symptoms and just hope they go away. Most of the time they won't. Although some people do outgrow their allergies, most of the time nasal allergies will stick with you for life. Call your doctor if your allergy symptoms are bothering you, or the treatment you're using isn't working.
Review Date: 2/18/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.