Print Close
Your plan for better health

Allergic rhinitis (Hay Fever)

What is it?

Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose. It is usually caused by inhaling allergens, which are substances that trigger an allergic response.

Common allergens include:

  • Outdoor
    • Weeds such as ragweed, sagebrush and redroot pigweed
    • Grasses such as Timothy grass, Kentucky bluegrass, and Johnson grasses
    • Trees such as walnut, oak and ash
    • Molds such as cladosporium and alternaria
  • Indoor
    • Pet dander
    • Cockroach droppings
    • Dust mites
    • Smoke
    • Molds such as mucor, aspergillus and penicillium

Who is affected?

At least 35.9 million people in the United States have seasonal allergic rhinitis which results in approximately 16.7 million office visits to health care providers each year1,2

What are the symptoms?

The onset of symptoms begins almost immediately after exposure and lasts as long as you are exposed to the allergen.

Symptoms include:
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Watery and itchy eyes

What can I do to prevent and treat It?

Take steps to reduce your exposure to allergens:

  • Vacuum and dust regularly.
  • Remove carpets from bedrooms and use throw rugs.
  • Use zippered, dust-proof covers for pillows, mattresses and box springs.
  • Confine the areas that pets are allowed in and groom them outdoors.
  • Avoid smoke from any sources.
  • Dry clothes in a clothes dryer on a high setting.
  • Stay indoors when mold spore and pollen counts are at a peak.
  • Use an air cleaner with a HEPA filter.
  • Wash off after outdoor activity to avoid bringing allergens into your home.

OTC medications can be used to treat the symptoms:

Antihistamines help control allergies. Decongestants can reduce blockage by narrowing blood vessels and allowing nasal congestion to clear. Antihistamines and decongestants can be found separately or together in products and are available in various forms like eye drops, nose sprays, liquids and pills. They are also commonly included in treatment plans for bacterial sinus infections.

The following are examples of OTC medications that can be used to treat the symptoms of allergic rhinitis:

Symptom relief Helpful medications Active ingredients* to look for in generic and name brand OTC products

Seasonal and year-round allergies:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itching of the nose or throat
  • Watering, itchy eyes
Antihistamine Loratadine
Example: Alavert®

Diphenhydramine HCL
Chlorpheniramine Maleate
Cromolyn Sodium

Nasal congestion
"Stopped - up" ears

Nasal Decongestant

Example: Sudafed®

Pseudoephedrine Sulfate
Example: Drixoral Decongestant®
If you have high blood pressure, be sure to use those products which do not contain decongestants, as they can raise blood pressure.
  • Minor aches, pains and headache, and to reduce the fever associated with colds or flu
  • Sneezing, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes due to the common cold, hay fever or other upper respiratory allergies
Antihistamine Pain Reliever Acetaminophen, Chlorpheniramine Maleate

* Active ingredients: ingredients in a medication that produce a therapeutic response


1 Nathan, R.A., Meltzer, E.O., Selner, J.C., Storms, W. "Prevalence of Allergic Rhinitis in the United States," Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (1997) 99:S808-14.
2 United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 10, no. 13. 1999.

Note: This information is intended to provide readers with health information. The information provided is not a substitute for consultation with a healthcare provider. Brand names included on this Web page are provided for examples only. Their inclusion does not mean that they are endorsed by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.