Allergies

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4 seasons of sneezing

Sneezing, stuffy nose, and itchy, watery eyes. Allergies come in many forms, but seasonal allergies, also called hay fever or allergic rhinitis, can make life miserable.

People get allergies during different seasons. Some people get allergies in spring, summer, or fall, because they react to outdoor molds or pollen from grasses and trees.

Others get allergies all year long because of indoor exposure to animal dander, dust mites, or cockroaches. Some people with year-round allergies find that their symptoms get worse during one particular season.

Is it allergies or a cold?

Because the symptoms caused by allergies and the symptoms caused by a cold can be very similar, it can be hard to tell whether you have caught a cold or are being bothered by allergies. And sometimes problems with the nose can occur even without allergies or catching a cold (nonallergic rhinitis).

Here’s how to tell the difference:

AllergiesNonallergic rhinitis Colds
Caused by allergensCaused by many things, including the immune system, temperature changes, side effects from medicines, scents, and often from unknown causesCaused by viruses
Symptoms can last for weeks or monthsSymptom length variesSymptoms typically last 7 to 10 days
Symptoms can appear suddenly or over several hoursSymptoms can appear suddenly or graduallySymptoms can take up to several days to appear
Symptoms typically happen all at onceSymptoms can appear at different timesSymptoms may appear one at a time
Can happen at any time of yearCan happen at any time of yearHappen more often in fall and winter but can happen at any time of year
Doesn’t cause a feverDoesn’t usually cause a fever or itchy, watery eyesCan cause a fever and often causes sore throat or colored mucus
Medications or allergy shots can provide reliefMedications and saline nasal sprays can provide reliefRest, self-care, and medications provide relief

The eyes have it

dandelionThough some people have nasal allergy symptoms, allergies aren’t just sniffling, sneezing, and wheezing. Some people have irritated eyes, while others have both nasal and eye symptoms.

Depending on your allergies, you may have swollen eyelids or watery eyes, or you may feel pain, itching, soreness, burning, or tenderness in one or both eyes. These symptoms may appear quickly, soon after your eyes have come into contact with the allergen.

You can soothe itchy, irritated eyes by putting a cold wash cloth over your eyes 4 to 5 times a day. Your doctor may recommend eye drops to help your eyes feel more comfortable.

Get relief

You doctor has checked your symptoms, performed allergy tests, and determined that you’ve got allergies. Now what do you do?

  • Pay attention to your environment. When you know the allergens that trigger your allergies, you can take steps to avoid them, which can reduce your symptoms.
  • Have an allergy action plan. You and your doctor can find the best ways to relieve your symptoms. If you’ve got asthma, make sure your asthma action plan includes strategies for handling flare-ups that may be triggered by your allergies.

Reviewed by: William Crawford, MD, December 2015
Additional Kaiser Permanente reviewers

© 2015 Kaiser Permanente