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What is allergic rhinitis, exactly? And how do doctors treat it? This article overviews all the important details you should know.

Pollen is important to the continued production of plant life, and especially in the spring, it’s in the air all around. At the same time, pollen can be the bane of existence, irritating sinuses and bringing out the worst of allergic reactions. This is commonly referred to as allergic rhinitis, or hay fever.

There are some over the counter treatments, but in many cases, the reactions are stronger than what those medications can relieve. Therefore, doctors are tasked with finding a medication that truly stops the symptoms related to allergies. How doctors treat pollen allergy depends on the severity of the reaction and the types of symptoms suffered.

Common symptoms of a pollen allergy

Pollen allergies, often referred to as “seasonal” because they are most problematic during the growing season (spring) are extremely common, and the symptoms are easily recognized. They include:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy and watering eyes
  • Itchy nose and throat
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing

These symptoms are bad enough in people with a pollen allergy but can be complicated in those who also have asthma, worsening the symptoms of asthma and triggering asthma attacks.

How a pollen allergy happens

Everyone has to breathe, and when pollen is in the air, that means pollen is inhaled as well. Once in your system, pollen releases proteins into the lining of the respiratory system. Normally, those proteins wouldn’t cause a problem, but in those with an allergic response, the body mistakenly sees these proteins as something harmful.

In these cases, the body releases antibodies to fight the threat the body feels the proteins present, which in turn, release histamine, the substance in the body responsible for excess mucus, inflammation, itching, and rashes.

Some of the most common pollens to cause allergic rhinitis are:

  • Various types of grass (the most common, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation)
  • Some trees, especially cedar, oak, cottonwood, and birch
  • A number of weeds, especially ragweed, tumbleweed, and sagebrush

If you aren’t sure which type of pollen is problematic for you, consulting with a physician can lead to testing that will determine sensitivity to various types of pollen. Then, it’s easier to treat the allergy, as well as to work to avoid contact with the type of pollen that causes the most trouble.

Medicines for allergic rhinitis

Once a doctor is alerted to the condition and the cause is identified, there are a number of treatment options, some more common than others. The type of treatment that will best resolve the issue depends on the severity of the symptoms, the response to certain types of medication, and the type of pollen triggering the reaction.

Take a look at nine treatment options doctors may choose to treat allergic rhinitis.

  1. Antihistamines – Available over the counter or in stronger doses through prescriptions, this medication is most commonly provided in pill form, with options for eye drops and a nasal spray. Antihistamines reduce the amount of histamine in the body, relieving symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
  2. Decongestants – Also available over the counter as a pill, liquid, or nasal spray, decongestants are another go-to for doctors treating hay fever. Decongestants work to relieve the swelling in the sinuses and airways, easing a number of symptoms. However, physicians also caution not to use decongestants for more than two to three days due to side effects such as insomnia, irritability, headache, and high blood pressure.
  3. Nasal corticosteroids – Because sufferers of hay fever seem to find the most relief from these, doctors tend to prescribe nasal corticosteroids first. This is considered safe for long term use and has few side effects, while still preventing and relieving inflammation, itching, and runny nose.
  4. Leukotriene modifiers – In some cases, a patient can’t tolerate nasal sprays. In such instances, these tablets may be prescribed to reduce the presence of leukotriene in the body (which causes excess mucus and other allergy symptoms). This treatment is used most commonly in those with mild asthma who also suffer from allergic rhinitis but is monitored carefully due to side effects that, on rare occasions, can include psychological changes.
  5. Nasal ipratropium – If the worst symptom is post nasal drip (runny nose), a doctor my find that this is the best solution, since ipratropium prevents the glands in the nose from producing the excess fluid that leads to your nose running. It’s prescribed in a nasal spray.
  6. Oral corticosteroids – In some cases, when allergy symptoms are severe, a physician may prescribe steroids in the form of pills. This will quickly help relieve inflammation, but it’s important not to take these for prolonged periods, since they have negative side effects.
  7. Cromolyn sodium – This treatment is most effective in a preventative way, and it’s available over the counter in a nasal spray or as eye drops by prescription. Much like antihistamines, it prevents the production of histamine, negating the occurrence of symtoms.
  8. Sublingual tablets – For some, it’s possible to make use of a small tablet that dissolves under the tongue to control allergy symptoms. The daily dose works like a vaccination, containing a minute amount of the allergen (pollen) that is released into the body to “condition” it against the actual allergen.
  9. Allergy shots – This is a form of immunotherapy, which doctors often prescribe in severe cases of pollen allergy. Like the sublingual dose, allergy shots inject small amounts of the pollen that causes an allergic reaction, and over several years, the body immune system builds up a tolerance, negating the response that causes allergy symptoms.

In addition to prescribed methods for treatment, doctors may recommend some household means to reduce the effects of hay fever symptoms. Rinsing sinuses, using aloe vera or other salves, and taking over the counter antihistamines can assist in controlling symptoms until other medications begin to work.


Identifying the underlying cause of a pollen allergy goes a long way in being able to properly treat the symptoms, especially since some therapy involves using that specific allergen as part of the treatment. Quality of life greatly improves with the reduction of symptoms, and your overall health can turn around for the better.

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