Given the option, many people might choose an oral pill over other forms of medications, like shots and sprays. It’s no surprise that many people with seasonal allergies choose oral antihistamines to minimize allergic reactions: Oral meds are mess-free and easily portable—and admittedly the least intimidating.
That said, you may be missing out if you’re choosing oral antihistamines and skipping the steroid nasal spray. “Nasal steroid sprays are probably the most effective treatment we have for seasonal allergies,” says Clifford Bassett, MD, allergist at NYU Langone Health. “They’re effective because they work on the nose symptoms: sneezing, runny nose, itchiness, as well as congestion and stuffiness.”
Oral meds for seasonal allergies work great at reducing itchiness and sneezing, but they’re not as effective at reducing congestion, according to a 2016 study in Advances in Dermatology and Allergology. If your nose starts to feel like a faucet as soon as spring hits, you already understand that congestion is arguably the most frustrating seasonal allergy symptom.
Nasal steroid sprays work so well because they “suppress allergic inflammation in your nose,” says Dr. Bassett. Less inflammation leads to less congestion, and less congestion can improve your overall quality of life. For example, severe nasal congestion can affect your quantity and quality of sleep, which may lead to that foggy feeling you have at work all spring long.
You can find a variety of OTC steroid nasal sprays for seasonal allergies at your drugstore, no prescription needed. “They’re quite safe,” says Dr. Bassett, “and studies and guidelines indicate they’re first-line treatment for people with bothersome seasonal allergies.”
But don’t just grab any nasal spray from the drugstore aisle: Decongestant sprays can help your runny nose, but they are not recommended for long-term use to treat seasonal allergies. Using a decongestant for too long can cause the nose to be chronically congested and reliant on the medication. “Decongestant nasal sprays can be used for a period of three to five days,” says Dr. Bassett. “After that, they create a condition called rebound congestion, or rhinitis medicamentosa.” Stick to nasal steroid sprays, which are approved for long-term use.
Medication is one way to treat seasonal allergies, but taking drugs work best in combination with certain lifestyle tweaks. Here are daily habits to reduce allergy symptoms.