various allergens resembling pollen, flowers, and leaves

allergy symptoms:

important things to know, with advice from Dr. Cynthia E. Collins.

Spring brings blooming trees, warmer winds, and loads of pollen. If you have allergies, and many of us do – it’s the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S.1 – the sneezing, runny nose, and puffy eyes are telltale signs that pollen is in the air.

Seasonal allergy symptoms, known as hay fever, often peak during spring, summer, and fall when pollen counts are high. On the other hand, perennial allergies persist year-round and are caused by sensitivity to allergens like dust mites, pet dander, insect dust, or mold. Both seasonal and perennial allergens trigger allergic rhinitis.

Allergy symptoms (allergic rhinitis) are among the most common conditions MDLIVE doctors treat, so we asked Dr. Cynthia E. Collins, MDLIVE Clinical Medical Director, to share her advice on what causes allergies and treatment options for nagging or worsening symptoms.

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Get the facts on allergies.

If allergies are getting the best of you, here is Dr. Collins’ advice on allergy triggers, tips to relieve symptoms, and how to get fast, reliable care from the comfort of home.

What causes allergic rhinitis (allergy symptoms)?

A nose breathes in an allergen

With seasonal allergies, the most common trigger is tiny pollen grains released into the air from grasses and trees. When pollen enters your nose, your immune system views these grains as ‘invaders’ and goes into protective mode. You produce antibodies to attack the allergens, which leads to a release of chemicals called ‘histamines’ into your bloodstream. Those histamines trigger allergy symptoms, like sneezing, a runny nose, itchy, watery eyes, and even hives.

Lowering your exposure to pollen can help reduce your symptoms. You can monitor pollen forecasts on weather or news websites like this one to see if pollen counts are high and which allergens are affecting your area.

Common symptoms of allergies.

Allergy symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Still, most people will say they feel “congested,” which can be an uncomfortable symptom that impacts your day-to-day activities, energy, and sleep. Some of the most common symptoms are:

Eye tearing

Itchy, watery eyes

A person coughing

Itchy, scratchy throat and cough

A person covers their nose with a tissue


sparkling clean hand

Rashes or hives

Runny nose

Runny or stuffy nose/congestion

lungs wheezing


Because you can develop allergies to anything and symptoms can easily be confused with other illnesses, a doctor can evaluate whether you’re suffering from allergies or something else, help you manage symptoms, and recommend tests or treatments.

Dr. Collins’ perspective – allergies, cold, or COVID-19?

“When it’s hard to breathe, and you feel congested in your nose and head, it’s not always easy to tell what’s going on. Because COVID-19 variants cause symptoms that overlap with colds, flu, allergies, and asthma, a doctor can help determine the cause and best treatment and get you feeling better faster. If your symptoms are familiar and return each year at the same time, you likely have seasonal allergies. But if your symptoms are new or over-the-counter remedies are no longer working, you should see a doctor to help determine the root of the problem.”

Knowing your triggers.

While pollen is one of the most common allergens, dust mites, mold, and animal dander are also common triggers for allergic reactions. Keeping notes or a journal on when your allergies begin, how long they last, and what seems to trigger them can help you pinpoint what is causing your symptoms. It will also help your doctor diagnose your symptoms and recommend the best type of treatment for you.

Did you know?

Your body can view anything as a foreign ‘invader’ that it must eliminate. This causes some people to have allergies to surprisingly uncommon things like water, sunlight, and even exercise. Here are five more uncommon allergies:


two pairs of dark blue shoes

Tanning chemicals used to process shoes, handbags, and other leather goods can cause painful skin reactions, including red, itchy, burning, and dry skin. Avoid the rash by wearing socks and using materials other than leather.


stacks of coins

Coins, especially nickel, can cause skin red, itchy, and painful skin reactions. You can develop an allergy to any type of metal. Reduce your exposure by avoiding coins and wearing less-allergic stainless steel or platinum jewelry. If you’re highly allergic to nickel, you may need to avoid foods rich in nickel, like mixed nuts and chocolate.2

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lightning strikes

Stress can cause your immune system to release a flood of chemicals and histamines. This response triggers inflammation, hives, or skin breakouts or can worsen an existing skin condition like eczema or psoriasis. Manage stress by talking to a professional who can help you develop coping strategies.

Schedule an appointment


clean laundry in a basket

Dyes, fragrances, and other chemicals in laundry detergents can aggravate the skin and resemble an eczema rash with dry, red, itchy bumps or scaly patches. Get relief by using more natural, irritant-free detergents and not overdoing the amount you use in the wash.


a bottle of wine with a full glass and grapes

Ever notice that your nose gets stuffy after drinking a glass of wine? You may be allergic to sulfites, the compounds found in most wines and dark beers. Other symptoms include itchy eyes, hives, and even breathing problems. Try organic wines with minimal or no added sulfites.

What treatments are available for allergies?

Some allergy remedies may work better for you than others, from over-the-counter medications including antihistamines, nasal sprays, and decongestants to prescriptions. An MDLIVE doctor can help determine which treatment is best for you, all from the comfort of home.

Along with over-the-counter remedies and prescriptions, the following tips from Dr. Collins can also help ease allergy symptoms:

  1. Shower at night to remove pollens.
  2. Saline nasal rinses and sprays help wash away pollen and other allergens.
  3. Vitamin C helps reduce nasal secretions and inflammation.
  4. Drink plenty of water.
  5. Exercise to enhance your natural immune system.
  6. Avoid foods that can increase congestion, such as cow’s milk and glutens.
  7. Cayenne, chili pepper, ginger, herbal teas, and spicy foods can help open nasal passages and decrease mucus production.
  8. Raw honey from your local area can help boost your immune system.

How can you get help without going to a doctor’s office?

Even if you don’t know what you’re allergic to, a doctor can help assess your symptoms and recommend a relief plan. MDLIVE offers reliable 24/7 health care by phone or video, so you can talk to a board-certified doctor in minutes when you need relief fast. Or schedule a time that works for you. If you’re experiencing more severe symptoms3 and over-the-counter medications aren’t helping, your MDLIVE doctor can discuss other treatment options with you and order prescriptions to your preferred pharmacy, if needed.

  • 3If you have a medical or mental health emergency, call 911. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience a life-threatening condition or acute or severe symptoms.

Dr. Collins’ perspective

“If allergies are impacting your daily life, I recommend focusing on three things to help minimize symptoms:

pollen on a sunny day

Check pollen forecasts in your area and take your allergy medication before the pollen levels get high.

wind and clouds

Stay indoors on dry, windy days and when pollen counts are highest. Rain helps keep pollen from making its way into your nose.

air filter

Keep windows closed and filter your indoor air. A good filter that is changed regularly will help trap allergens before they get to you.

These three tips can help you find a little relief, but the reality is that despite your best efforts, you may still experience symptoms which require medication to manage.”

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Phone with doctor on screen