WebMD: Expert Advice on Handling Your Nasal Allergies

WebMD Feature

By Tony Rehagen

Reviewed By Luqman Seidu, MD

Nasal allergies can have symptoms that are like a cold -- watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and congestion -- that just won’t go away. If your reaction to pollen, mold, dust, or pet hair is severe enough, it can put quite a hamper on your day-to-day life.

But there are things you can do to stifle your sniffles, cut down on the tissues, and get back to living. Start with these ideas from allergist James L. Sublett, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

1. Get Your House in Order

Your home should be your fortress, a ship on the angry sea of nasal allergies. If you are allergic to pollen, keep the outdoors out.

Shut the windows “and crank the air conditioning,” Sublett says, no matter how nice the weather. He adds that it might also be a good idea to install a filtration system in the furnace and A/C to screen out allergens.

Next, if you have the budget for a big change, Sublett recommends that you get rid of as much upholstery and carpet as possible and replace them with hardwoods and smooth surfaces where a wet rag or mop can easily pick up dust or pet hair.

Mold can form inside your home, too. Keep bathrooms clean and dry. Be quick to repair and seal leaking pipes or roofs. Damp basements may require a dehumidifier, but be sure to empty them regularly.

Take special care in allergy-proofing the bedroom, where you end and start every day. Avoid down-filled pillows or comforters, a favorite of dust mites. Use zippered, hypoallergenic covers for pillows and mattresses.

2. Keep Fido at Bay

It’s a plot made for tragedy: Woman loves man. Woman is allergic to man’s dog. Sublett says this drama doesn’t have to end in heartbreak -- or sinus headache.

First, make sure you are actually allergic to your boyfriend’s other best friend. “I see it in patients fairly frequently,” Sublett says. “They come in and tell me, ‘It must be my dog.’ It may not be.” It could be another allergen or even another animal. “You can pick up animal allergens from different places, other houses, people’s clothes.”

If you know it's Fido that’s making your nose run, it’s a good idea to mark your territory. “At minimum, keep them out of the bedroom,” Sublett says. “Definitely off the bed.”

Also groom your pet regularly, and do it outside of your home. Again, air filtration will help prevent the allergens from circulating throughout the house.

And if your reaction is severe, Sublett says you should seek immunotherapy, which harnesses your immune system to tame your allergy symptoms. “With animals, shots can be a game-changer,” he says.

3. Get Out of the House

You’ve got your home in order. But you need to get out and about! When you venture into the great outdoors, be smart about it.

Time your trips. For instance, Sublett says pollen counts are usually higher in the early- to mid-morning hours and let up as the day goes on. Pollen is always better after it rains. Mold, on the other hand, is worse after it rains, and in the evenings during periods of high humidity. Windy days, when allergens are stirred up, are not great for nasal allergies.

Hitting the road? When you go on vacation or for business, take your own pillow, encased in a dust-proof cover. Try to choose a hotel that doesn’t allow pets or smoking, since allergens can attach themselves to smoke particles.

4. Medication: The Right Tool for the Right Job

Of course, all of these prevention steps won’t completely eliminate allergens from your life. Sublett shares his symptom-by-symptom recommendations:

Irritated eyes: A cool compress and wearing sunglasses outdoors can often help, but antihistamine eyedrops can also do the trick. He also says antihistamine and steroid nasal sprays have been shown to have some benefit.

Runny nose: Try salt water (saline) sprays.“They can wash things out,” Sublett says.

Congestion: Sublett says that decongestant nasal sprays can actually decrease blood flow to the nose, and when they wear off, they can lead to more congestion. He suggests instead using a combination of antihistamines and a steroid nasal spray to reduce swelling of the nasal passages.

Sneezing: Steroid nasal sprays and antihistamines can help with this, if allergies are the cause. If you have a cold or the flu, antihistamines won’t help.

Postnasal drip: Use saline. You can also try gargling with warm salt water. “It may not get rid of it,” Sublett says. “But it’ll break up the mucus in the back of your throat.”

5. See an Allergist

If you take all these precautions and don’t get enough relief, seeing a professional may be your best option.

It’s not all about shots and prescriptions. Sometimes the allergist can see other problems and even identify other triggers you didn’t know you had, Sublett says.

The problem may not even be an allergy. So ask doctor to be sure.  “There is help out there,” Sublett says.