Suffering from allergies

Environmental allergies

Environmental allergies (also known as seasonal allergies, hay fever, or allergic rhinitis) are common. Symptoms can include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itching in the eyes/nose/roof of mouth, cough, post nasal drip, and fatigue.

Allergies are very common and affect approximately 10–30 percent of the population.

Most seasonal allergies are caused by pollens in the air from grasses, weeds, and trees. Mold can also cause problems during damp weather.

People can normally breathe pollens without a problem, but when we have allergies, our immune system treats the pollen as if it is harmful to the body, producing allergy symptoms.

Indoor exposure to dust mites, cockroaches, and animals such as cats and dogs can also cause allergy symptoms.

Allergy testing

Your doctor can often diagnose allergies by talking to you about your symptoms. Sometimes, allergy skin testing can be helpful. This is typically done by an allergy doctor.

Allergy prevention

Staying inside during allergy season can help. Keeping the house and car windows closed and using air-conditioning can also provide some relief. Many patients find it helpful to shower pollen off their hair and skin before going to bed.


There are a variety of medications available to relieve symptoms and treat allergies. Talk with your doctor about whether they are appropriate for you.

Steroid nasal sprays

Flonase/Fluticasone, Nasacort/Triamcinolone acetonide are some examples of medications for nasal congestion and post nasal drip.They take a few days to weeks to work. An antihistamine (below) can be used with them. These sprays work best when used every day. They are available over the counter (OTC), without a prescription, in pharmacies and grocery stores. Steroid nasal sprays do not contain the same type of steroids that some athletes use illegally. Steroid nasal sprays are safe and effective.


Claritin/Loratidine, Zyrtec/Cetirizine, and others can help with sneezing, itching, and runny noses. These are also available over the counter. Some antihistamines may cause drowsiness.


Sudafed/Pseudoephedrine/Phenylepherine and Afrin/Oxymetazoline can be used for nasal congestion. These medications are sold as pills or sprays. Patients with high blood pressure, heart problems, and some other chronic health problems should not take these medications. Decongestant nasal sprays should not be used for more than 3 days in a row, as this could make symptoms worse.

Allergy eye drops

Zaditor/Ketotifen, Naphcon A, and others can be used for red and itchy eyes. These drops are more comfortable for the eyes if kept in the refrigerator.

Allergy shots

Visit with your physician to see whether shots will be helpful. They need to be given regularly (often weekly) and are prescribed by an allergy doctor. They can take months to work.

University of Iowa students can schedule an appointment with a provider at Student Health and Wellness online through their MyChart account or by calling 1-319-335-8394.
Last reviewed: 
August 2017

Interested in using our health content?