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Allergic rhinitis - self-care

Allergic rhinitis is a group of symptoms that affect your nose. They occur when you breathe in something you are allergic to, such as dust mites, animal dander, or pollen.

Allergic rhinitis is called hay fever when it is caused by plant pollen and other outdoor particles.

Alternative names

Hay fever - self-care; Seasonal rhinitis - self-care

Avoid your triggers

Things that make allergies worse are called triggers. It may be impossible to completely avoid all triggers. But you can do many things to limit your or your child's exposure to them.

Some changes you may need to make include:

  • Installing furnace filters or other air filters
  • Removing furniture and carpets from your floors
  • Using a dehumidifier to dry the air in your house
  • Changing where your pets sleep and eat
  • Avoiding certain outdoor tasks
  • Changing how you clean your house

The amount of pollen in the air can affect whether hay fever symptoms develop. More pollen is in the air on hot, dry, windy days. On cool, damp, rainy days, most pollen is washed to the ground.

Medicines for allergic rhinitis

Antihistamines are medicines that work well for treating allergy symptoms. They are often used when symptoms do not occur very often or do not last very long.

  • Many can be bought as a pill, capsule, or liquid without a prescription.
  • Older antihistamines can cause sleepiness. They may affect a child's ability to learn and make it unsafe for adults to drive or use machinery.
  • Newer antihistamines cause little or no sleepiness or learning problems.

Antihistamine nasal sprays work well for treating allergic rhinitis. They are only available with a prescription.

Decongestants are medicines that help dry up a runny or stuffy nose. They come as pills, liquids, capsules, or nasal sprays. You can buy them over-the-counter (OTC), without a prescription.

  • You can use them along with antihistamine pills or liquids.
  • Do not use nasal spray decongestants for more than 3 days in a row.
  • Talk to your child's health care provider before giving your child decongestants.
  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays are the most effective treatment. Many brands are available. You can buy one brand (Nasacort) without a prescription. For other brands, you need a prescription.
  • They work best when you use them every day.
  • It may take 2 or more weeks of steady use for your symptoms to improve.
  • They are safe for children and adults.

Nasal wash

For mild allergic rhinitis, a nasal wash can help remove mucus from your nose. You can buy a saline spray at a drugstore or make one at home. To make a nasal wash, use 1 cup of warm water, 1/2 a teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of baking soda.

When to call the doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if:

  • You have severe allergy or hay fever symptoms.
  • Your symptoms do not get better when you treat them.
  • You are wheezing or coughing more.

References

Corren J, Baroody FM, Pawankar R. Allergic and nonallergic rhinitis. In: Adkinson NF Jr., Bochner BS, Burks AW, et al., eds. Middleton's Allergy Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 42.

Greiner AN, Hellings PW, Rotiroti G, Scadding GK. Allergic rhinitis. Lancet. 2011;378(9809):2112-2122.

Updated: 5/18/2014

Stuart I. Henochowicz, MD, FACP, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology, Georgetown University Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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