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Struggling with Seasonal Allergies? 3 Ways to Treat Hay Fever with Over the Counter Medication

Nearly a month into spring and as plants start to bloom and we edge towards summer, many Americans are struggling with the return of their seasonal allergies and the high pollen count. Roughly 8 percent of people over the age of 18 in the United States suffer from hay fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When pollen season gets going in early spring, a number of common allergy triggers grow more prominent, particularly tree pollen and grass pollen. Allergic rhinitis, otherwise known as hay fever, is accompanied by various uncomfortable hay fever symptoms, including sneezing, coughing, a runny nose, nasal congestion, watery eyes, and fatigue. 

Fortunately, the majority of seasonal allergic rhinitis cases do not require a trip to the doctor, as there are ample over-the-counter medications available to treat hay fever and allergy symptoms, whether you are affected by itchy eyes or a sore throat. Some of the most popular of these are antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal steroids. You don't need a prescription to purchase many varieties of these, but a pharmacist can assist you when it comes to selecting the right one. For the best advice on seasonal allergy medication from your pharmacist, inform them of any allergies you have and any medication or supplements you are currently taking. 

Promising research is underway into a number of new treatments and options for allergy relief. One recent study by the University of Alberta found babies from families with pets were less likely to develop allergies. Anita Kozyrskyj, the pediatric epidemiologist at the head of the study, suggested drug companies might develop a new supplement to increase immunity to allergens. 

In the meantime, we have compiled some information on three of the most common over-the-counter remedies used to treat those affected by seasonal allergies. 


Most people who suffer from allergies will be familiar with antihistamines. Histamines are a natural substance released by the body when it has an allergic reaction and these are countered by antihistamines. These medications alleviate a number of uncomfortable allergy symptoms such as a runny nose or itchy eyes and often have an anti-inflammatory effect. 

Antihistamines come in two forms: first generation (sedating) antihistamines and second generation (non-sedating). The second generation variety is more commonly used by allergy sufferers, in part because they are less likely to result in certain side effects, such as drowsiness. Popular examples of second generation antihistamines include ZyrtecClaritin, and Benadryl, and all are available in their cheaper generic forms cetirizine, loratadine, and diphenhydramine.

Antihistamine eye drops may also prove an effective treatment for short-term relief from some of the more irritating hay fever symptoms, such as itchy eyes.  


Non-prescription decongestants can be an effective remedy for nasal symptoms and relieve painful pressure in the head and sinuses. Decongestants narrow the blood vessels responsible for causing nasal congestion, allowing air to flow naturally through the nasal passages once more. 

Some of the most popular over-the-counter decongestants of alleviating a stuffy nose are Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and Afrin (oxymetazoline). Decongestants are available in a number of different forms, inclusion oral capsules, tablets, and decongestant nasal sprays.  

Topical nasal corticosteroids

A stuffed up or runny nose are very common symptoms experienced by people with seasonal allergies, often making it difficult to breathe. Topical nasal corticosteroid sprays, for example, Nasacort (triamcinolone), work to relieve symptoms of hay fever, such as congestion, itchy red eyes and sneezing by reducing inflammation in the nose. 

More powerful varieties of this medication are available on prescription, but it might be worth trying an over-the-counter option such as Flovent Hfa (fluticasone propionate) or Flonase (fluticasone) before an expensive trip to the doctor. 

Still struggling with hay fever and allergy symptoms?

Over-the-counter medication is a useful addition to your medication cupboard and to counter the symptoms of experienced by many during pollen season. It may also save you money on your overall medical bills, helping you avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor and expensive prescription medication or allergy shots. 

If you are one of the millions of Americans struggle with seasonal allergies, talk to your pharmacist to find out which non-prescription medication will best ease your symptoms. If your allergy symptoms are particularly severe it may be necessary to speak to a physician about prescription medications or to schedule a blood test or skin test to measure the body's reaction to allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, and certain foodstuffs.