Confronting Your Nasal Allergies

Allergy causes may vary, but treatment options often are the same. Our primer on nasal allergies provides the lowdown on how to relieve the irritation.

nasal allergies

Allergies can create suffering by those of us who experience them. A number of treatments (see below) can help you get past them.

© Michael Krause |

While many people welcome the changing seasons, those with allergies see the beginning of spring and fall as the time when they have to load up on extra tissues. Irritating, painful, and annoying, nasal allergies can be quite disruptive in everyday life. However, by recognizing source of your allergy, you can more easily find relief and perhaps even help control flair-ups.

Nasal allergies are an inflammatory reaction to certain environmental substances, such as dust mites, mold, animal hair, grass, or pollens. Pollen is the most common cause of allergens, especially during the spring and fall, when tree, flower, grass, and weed pollen are at their greatest density in the environment. (See also “How to Get Through Allergy Season.“)

Nasal Allergies: Risk Factors and Symptoms

Allergies can happen to anyone, but your risk is higher if you have a family history of allergies. Environmental pollutants also play a role, such as smoke, chemicals, and perfumes.

The natural chemical histamine is released when your body encounters an allergen in order to defend itself. This is what causes the typical symptoms, such as:

  • Constant sneezing
  • Runny and/or stuffy nose
  • Coughing
  • Sore or scratchy throat
  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Headaches
  • Facial pain
  • Extreme fatigue

Nasal Allergies: Screening and Diagnosis

Isolating the source of your allergy can often be done through a physical exam. However, you may need other tests to help isolate the allergen and determine the best treatment and preventative options. The two most used are the skin prick and allergy blood tests.

  • Skin prick. A doctor places a variety of substances onto your skin to see how your body reacts to each one. A small red bump appears if you are allergic to a substance.
  • Blood test. This measures the amount of immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies to particular allergens that are present in your blood.

Nasal Allergy Treatment and Prevention

There are various ways to treat nasal allergies.

  • Antihistamines. They prevent this condition by blocking histamine formation in the body. Some over-the-counter (OTC) versions work fine, but check with your doctor before.
  • Decongestants. OTC decongestants used over a short period of time can relieve stuffy nose and sinus pressure. Again, check with your doctor, especially if you have high blood pressure or an enlarged prostate.
  • Eye drops and nasal sprays. They relieve itchiness and other symptoms related to allergies.
  • Immunotherapy (allergy shots). You can use this approach in conjunction with medications to control your symptoms. Over time, the injections lower your immune response to specific allergens.

The best way to prevent symptoms is to manage your allergies. For instance, begin medications before seasonal allergies attack, stay indoors when pollen counts are high, and take special care to keep your home free of pet hair, dust, and mold.



Allergies typically affect us most in our heads—nasal allergies touch off hacking, sneezing, runny eyes, and wheezing. But with our pets, allergies produces lots of itching and scratching. If you have a dog or cat, read about your pet’s allergy issues in these two posts, published by Dogster and Catster magazines:


Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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Matthew Solan

Matthew Solan has served as executive editor of Harvard Men's Health Watch since 2016. He was previously executive editor for UCLA Health's Healthy Years and was a regular contributor to … Read More

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