The Medical Minute

June 2, 2022

By: Deborah Greubel, DNP, APRN-CNP
MBU chief health officer

Everyone loves spring. As winter recedes and warm weather begins, new grass emerges, trees regain their leaves, and flowers start to bloom. It’s a wonderful time to get outside, bask in the sunshine, and work off those “winter pounds.”  

For some individuals, spring also brings “hay fever” or seasonal allergies. The medical term for this is “allergic rhinitis,” and approximately 20% of Americans suffer from the condition. 

Less common in winter months, allergic rhinitis is a result of exposure to pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds, or other allergens such as mold, cockroaches, dust mites, and pet dander. The body reacts to these irritants by releasing a natural chemical called histamine, which helps it get rid of the offending agent.  

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Itchy irritated eyes, nose, and throat

Less common symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Sinus pain
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Fatigue and malaise
  • Wheezing, coughing, and trouble breathing

Allergic rhinitis is more common in people who have family members or parents with allergies. In addition, those with asthma or eczema more often develop the condition.

If you suffer from recurrent or persistent allergic rhinitis, it’s important to visit your healthcare provider. The visit will likely include:

  • A physical exam
  • Inquiry of symptoms 
  • Evaluation for other conditions such as the common cold or asthma

Your healthcare provider will likely recommend or prescribe medications that will help you cope with allergic rhinitis. Recommendations may include antihistamines, decongestants, corticosteroid nasal sprays, inhalers, or allergy shots.

Allergic rhinitis is certainly an annoying disease; however, it’s not a serious medical problem. To decrease the number of “hay fever” events, you should:

  • Close windows in your home and car during times when pollen counts are high
  • Use dust mite covers on mattresses and pillows 
  • Use filters in air conditioning and vacuum cleaners
  • Wash your hands often

If you have trouble breathing or have chest tightness, seek medical attention immediately.

To read previous editions of the Medical Minute, please visit the MBU Wellness site.