Itchy ears and nose

What Causes Itchy Ears and Throat?

You can treat mild cold and allergy symptoms yourself with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, decongestants, and antihistamines. To relieve the itch, try an oral or cream antihistamine.

Popular antihistamines include:

  • diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • loratadine (Claritin)
  • fexofenadine (Allegra)

Although oral antihistamines are more common, the same brands often offer topical formulas.

Lingering or more severe symptoms warrant a call to your doctor.

Here’s a rundown of treatments by condition.

How to treat allergic rhinitis

An allergist can do a skin or blood test to find out which substances set off your symptoms.

You can prevent symptoms by staying away from your triggers:

  • Put a dust mite-proof cover on your bed. Wash your sheets and other linens in hot water — above 130°F. Vacuum upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains.
  • Stay indoors when pollen counts are high. Keep your windows closed and your air conditioning on.
  • Don’t smoke, and stay far away from anyone who is smoking.
  • Don’t allow your pets in your bedroom.
  • Keep the humidity in your home set at or below 50 percent to discourage mold growth. Clean any mold you do find with a mixture of water and chlorine bleach.

You can manage allergy symptoms with over-the-counter decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or antihistamines, such as loratadine (Zyrtec). These medicines come in pills, eye drops, and nasal sprays.

If allergy medicines aren’t strong enough, see an allergist. They may recommend shots called immunotherapy, which gradually stop your body from reacting.

How to treat food allergies

If you often react to certain foods, see an allergist. Skin prick tests can confirm which food or foods trigger your allergies.

Once you’ve identified the food in question, you’ll want to avoid it. Check the ingredient list of every food you buy. If you have a severe allergy to any food, carry around an epinephrine auto-injector, or an EpiPen, in case of a severe reaction.

How to treat drug allergies

Call your doctor if you have symptoms of a drug allergy. Your doctor might suggest that you cease taking the medicine. Get medical help right away for symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and swelling of your face or throat.

How to treat a cold

No cure for the common cold exists, but you can relieve some of your symptoms with:

  • over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil)
  • decongestant pills or nasal sprays, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • combination cold medicines, such as dextromethorphan (Delsym)

Most colds will clear up on their own within seven to 10 days. If your symptoms last longer than two weeks or they get worse, call your doctor.

Itchy Ears

Itchy ears are a very common problem. For some people the problem is so bad that they stick various objects into the ears, causing trauma to the ear canal. The most common causes of itching are a nervous habit, fungal infection or the beginning of an infection. Other causes can be skin diseases such as psoriasis or dermatitis. Some people with allergies complain of Itchy ears.

The ear canal may be normal on examination or there may be scaling of the skin. People aggravate the problem by using things such as bobby-pins, coat hangers and tooth picks to scratch the ear. This can produce abrasions of the ear canal. Any break in the skin can allow bacteria to enter through this protective barrier. The ear will then become infected requiring it to be treated the same as swimmer’s ear.

Itching by itself without evidence of trauma or infection can be treated with a mild steroid ear drop. A few drops placed in the ear will help to decrease the amount of itching. Another helpful treatment is the use of 70% alcohol (rubbing alcohol) as an ear drop. CAUTION: itchy ears may be the first signal that an infection is developing. If the ear is infected the alcohol will burn.

Adult with complaint of itchy ears all the time.

Adult with itchy ears.

Thirty year old lady with chronic itchy ears for many years.

The Right Way to Fight Rhinitis

If you’re plagued with constant irritation of your eyes, throat, and nose, rhinitis could be to blame. Rhinitis is a very common condition, affecting as much as 40 percent of American children and 30 percent of adults.

Rhinitis describes the symptoms caused by inflammation and irritation of the nose. The nasal passages can become irritated when exposed to:

  • Allergens (mold, dander, pollen, etc.)
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Chemicals and pollutants in the air
  • An infection in the respiratory tract
  • Changes in the temperature and weather
  • Strong fumes or smells

When you breathe in these irritants, the tiny particles enter your nose, and the body responds by releasing a chemical called histamine. Histamine leads to irritation and inflammation, and causes the eyes, sinuses, and nasal passages to produce fluid in response.

Symptoms of Rhinitis

You probably recognize the irritating symptoms of rhinitis, especially if you have allergies — you just may not have known what it was. Common rhinitis symptoms include:

  • Frequent sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Drainage from the nose (a runny nose)
  • A bleeding nose
  • Itchiness of the nose, ears, eyes, and throat
  • Watery eyes

Rhinitis isn’t just a a problem on its own — it can lead to additional health problems like insomnia, problems with the ears or sinuses, and even asthma.

Types of Rhinitis

There are a few different types of rhinitis, and it’s important to figure out what type you have (and what’s causing it) so you’ll know which treatment options are best. Here are the types of rhinitis:

  • Allergic rhinitis. This type of rhinitis is caused by an allergic reaction to mold, pet dander, pollen, ragweed, dust, or other common allergens. Allergic rhinitis is sometimes called hay fever and many people associate it with spring or fall — but it can happen any time of year due to indoor allergens.
  • Non-allergic rhinitis. Though it has the same symptoms as allergic rhinitis, non-allergic rhinitis is caused by irritating smells, smoke, and weather changes, or as a result of medication side effects. Symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis can typically be controlled by avoiding the irritants or by taking medications as directed by your doctor.
  • Infectious rhinitis. This type of rhinitis occurs when you have a viral infection. Symptoms generally last from three to seven days, until the infection clears up. The common cold and the flu are considered to be types of infectious rhinitis.

Some people with allergic rhinitis can have what’s sometimes called perennial or chronic rhinitis. That means that they experience rhinitis symptoms all year long — no matter the season. This generally occurs because the allergens aren’t seasonal but constant, and symptoms are caused by dust, dander, mold spores, or cockroaches.

Treating Rhinitis

Symptoms of rhinitis are pretty uncomfortable, and they can keep you from functioning well in your day-to-day responsibilities. There are many ways to try to manage symptoms and treat rhinitis, including:

  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal sprays (with antihistamines, decongestants, or corticosteroids)
  • Decongestants
  • Antileukotrienes (Accolate, Zyflo, and Singulair)
  • Immunotherapy (allergy shots)
  • Staying away from irritating allergens by avoiding pets, keeping your house clean, and not smoking or being near smokers, for example)

A combination of treatments may be most effective, depending on the cause and type of your rhinitis. If your rhinitis symptoms keep coming back, see your doctor about how to bring them under control.

Find more information in the Everyday Health Ear, Nose, and Throat Center.

Everything you need to know about itchy throat

Irritated itchy throats can be caused by a wide variety of factors. Likely causes of an itchy throat include the following:

Allergic rhinitis

Share on PinterestA common cause of itchy throat is allergic rhinitis, which is also known as hay fever.

Also known as hay fever, allergic rhinitis may be one of the most common causes of an itchy throat. As many as 40 to 60 million Americans are affected by it.

Allergic rhinitis happens when the body overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance, releasing a chemical called histamine that causes these overreactions.

Common triggers include pollen, dander, dust, and irritants such as cigarette smoke or exhaust fumes.

Food allergies

Allergic reactions to food happen when the body reacts to certain things we eat as if they were going to harm the body. Reactions generally develop within minutes or a few hours after consuming the trigger food.

The allergy may be mild with symptoms stopping with an itchy throat or mouth. However, they can be life-threatening.

Common trigger foods include peanuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, and wheat.

Drug allergies

Many people suffer from allergies to certain medications including penicillin and other antibiotics. The severity of the allergy will range from mild to life-threatening.

Symptoms of a drug allergy can include an itchy throat that starts shortly after taking a new medication.

Bacterial and viral infections

Strep throat or bacterial cases of tonsillitis may start with an itchy throat before progressing to a more severe sore throat.

Viruses such as the common cold or the flu virus can both cause an itchy throat.

If it is just a cold, the itchy throat is unlikely to progress past being mildly sore. If a person has a flu infection, their throat soreness will be more severe and accompanied by fever, body aches, and chest discomfort.


Dehydration occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. It is common during hot weather, after exercise, or during illness.

Dehydration can cause a dry mouth, a temporary condition where the mouth and throat don’t have enough saliva. This may cause an itchy feeling in the throat.

Acid reflux

Share on PinterestA symptom of itchy throat may be stomach acid that enters the food pipe, also known as heartburn.

Also known as heartburn, some people with chronic acid reflux experience throat problems. Acid reflux happens when stomach acid backs up from the stomach into the food pipe.

An itchy or sore throat is unlikely to be the only symptom of reflux. However, some people have a condition called silent reflux and may only notice a chronic, itchy throat as a symptom.

Medication side effects

Some medications may cause dry coughs and itchy throats that are not due to allergic reactions.

People taking ACE inhibitors for high blood pressure should be aware that ACE inhibitors may cause an itchy throat and dry cough.

Most often, these symptoms begin shortly after starting an ACE inhibitor and are not accompanied by other symptoms commonly experienced with an itchy throat.

Why do my ears itch? Causes and treatments

6. Swimmer’s ear

If water gets trapped in the ear, it can cause a condition called acute otitis externa. This condition is also known as swimmer’s ear because it frequently affects swimmers.

Bacteria can multiply in the trapped water, causing an infection.

Swimmer’s ear can make the ear feel very itchy. If people have swimmer’s ear, they may also notice the following symptoms:

  • pain in the ear
  • pain in the neck, face, or head
  • inflammation around the ear
  • ear feels blocked
  • drainage from the ear
  • difficulty hearing

7. Allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, happens when people have an allergic reaction to common particles found in the air, such as pollen, dust mites, or animal fur.

It can cause itchiness in the ears, eyes, and throat, along with:

  • watery eyes
  • a runny nose
  • headaches
  • sneezing
  • congestion

People may also experience itchy ears due to congestion caused by a common cold. This will usually pass as people recover from the cold.

8. Skin conditions

People who have a skin condition in this area might experience itchy ears. Some people might also notice inflamed, scaly patches on or around the ear.

Conditions that may cause itchy ears include:

  • psoriasis
  • dermatitis
  • eczema

Allergic rhinitis: Your nose knows

Treatment of allergic rhinitis

Three strategies are available: avoiding triggers, using medications to reduce symptoms, and getting immunotherapy (“allergy shots”).

Avoiding triggers. Here are the steps to take for seasonal rhinitis:

  • Limit your outdoor activities when pollen counts are high. Ragweed counts usually peak in early midday, grass pollen in late afternoon and early evening. If you have to do yard work during pollen season, wear an N95 mask. Shower, wash your hair, and change your clothes afterwards.
  • Keep your windows and doors closed as much as possible during pollen season.
  • Use air conditioners instead of fans, which bring in outside air. Drive with your windows and vents closed and your air conditioner on.

For year-round allergic rhinitis:

  • If you have a dog or cat that triggers symptoms, have it bathed weekly and do your best to keep it off furniture and out of the bedroom.
  • Put pillows, box springs, and mattresses in sealed plastic covers (allergen encasements) to keep out dust mites. Wash bedding in hot water (above 120° F) to kill dust mites.
  • Remove carpets from your bedroom.
  • Use a dehumidifier to keep relative humidity below 40%.

Medication. Many treatments are available. Here’s a quick summary of the major types.

Antihistamine tablets will help most patients. For the majority of people, one of the less sedating preparations will be best. Many are available over the counter, such as loratadine (Alavert, Claritin, generic), cetirizine (Zyrtec, generic), and fexofenadine (Allegra, generic). High doses can produce sleepiness and dry mouth; men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) may have difficulty urinating.

Nasal steroid sprays are very effective but usually take several days to kick in. Like the oral antihistamines, these drugs can relieve eye symptoms as well as nose symptoms. Examples include budesonide (Rhinocort Allergy), fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief), and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24HR), which are available without prescription. Side effects may include nasal irritation and headaches.

Antihistamine nasal sprays are an alternative to oral antihistamines. Azelastine (Astelin) and olopatadine (Patanase) are available by prescription; some patients experience a bitter taste or drowsiness.

Leukotriene blockers, such as the oral prescription drug montelukast (Singulair), relieve most symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Headache can be a side effect.

Decongestants are available without prescription as tablets (pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine) or nasal sprays (phenylephrine, oxymetazoline) and can relieve nasal congestion but have little effect on other allergic rhinitis symptoms. Side effects may include nervousness, racing heart, elevated blood pressure, and insomnia. Men with BPH may have difficulty urinating. Decongestants should not be relied on for primary treatment but can be combined with a first-line drug for temporary use. You should not use a decongestant nasal spray for more than a few days.

Other medications include an anticholinergic nasal spray called ipratropium (Atrovent), which is effective only for runny noses and various anti-allergic eye drops can be used to treat eye symptoms. In rare cases, patients with severe rhinitis may need a short course of oral steroids.

Immunotherapy, or “allergy shots,” can help achieve long-term control of allergic rhinitis. The regimen usually involves skin testing to identify the responsible allergens followed by weekly injections of gradually increasing doses of the allergen, and then maintenance injections every two to six weeks for several years. Most doctors reserve immunotherapy for patients who do not respond well to medication.

The itchy nose knows

For many people, allergic rhinitis is a temporary seasonal woe, but for others, it’s a year-round hassle. And for some, it can be linked to asthma, sinusitis, or other more serious problems. Because allergic rhinitis is so very common, it also adds up to an expensive proposition for American society.

If you are one of the unlucky many with allergies, you’ll have to learn to deal with the problem. Avoid exposure to things that trigger symptoms. Experiment with medications to control symptoms; nonsedating antihistamines, antihistamine nasal sprays, and steroid nasal sprays are among the first-line treatments. Some men may prefer one of the many other drugs that are available, and others need combination therapy. Immunotherapy is available for particularly difficult cases.

The many options for treating allergic rhinitis can be confusing at first, but if you take the time to nose around, you’ll find a way to keep your nose working smoothly — without running!

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Allergic Rhinitis


The first approach in managing seasonal or perennial forms of hay fever should be to avoid the allergens that trigger symptoms.

Outdoor exposure

  • Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are at their peak, usually during the midmorning and early evening (this may vary according to plant pollen), and when wind is blowing pollens around.
  • Avoid using window fans that can draw pollens and molds into the house.
  • Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to minimize the amount of pollen getting into your eyes.
  • Wear a pollen mask (such as a NIOSH-rated 95 filter mask) when mowing the lawn, raking leaves or gardening, and take appropriate medication beforehand.
  • Don’t hang clothing outdoors to dry; pollen may cling to towels and sheets.
  • Try not to rub your eyes; doing so will irritate them and could make your symptoms worse.

Indoor exposure

  • Keep windows closed, and use air conditioning in your car and home. Make sure to keep your air conditioning unit clean.
  • Reduce exposure to dust mites, especially in the bedroom. Use “mite-proof” covers for pillows, comforters and duvets, and mattresses and box springs. Wash your bedding frequently, using hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • To limit exposure to mold, keep the humidity in your home low (between 30 and 50 percent) and clean your bathrooms, kitchen and basement regularly. Use a dehumidifier, especially in the basement and in other damp, humid places, and empty and clean it often. If mold is visible, clean it with mild detergent and a 5 percent bleach solution as directed by an allergist.
  • Clean floors with a damp rag or mop, rather than dry-dusting or sweeping.

Exposure to pets

  • Wash your hands immediately after petting any animals; wash your clothes after visiting friends with pets.
  • If you are allergic to a household pet, keep the animal out of your home as much as possible. If the pet must be inside, keep it out of the bedroom so you are not exposed to animal allergens while you sleep.
  • Close the air ducts to your bedroom if you have forced-air or central heating or cooling. Replace carpeting with hardwood, tile or linoleum, all of which are easier to keep dander-free.


Many allergens that trigger allergic rhinitis are airborne, so you can’t always avoid them. If your symptoms can’t be well-controlled by simply avoiding triggers, your allergist may recommend medications that reduce nasal congestion, sneezing, and an itchy and runny nose. They are available in many forms — oral tablets, liquid medication, nasal sprays and eyedrops. Some medications may have side effects, so discuss these treatments with your allergist so they can help you live the life you want.

Intranasal corticosteroids

Intranasal corticosteroids are the single most effective drug class for treating allergic rhinitis. They can significantly reduce nasal congestion as well as sneezing, itching and a runny nose.

Ask your allergist about whether these medications are appropriate and safe for you. These sprays are designed to avoid the side effects that may occur from steroids that are taken by mouth or injection. Take care not to spray the medication against the center portion of the nose (the nasal septum). The most common side effects are local irritation and nasal bleeding. Some older preparations have been shown to have some effect on children’s growth; data about some newer steroids don’t indicate an effect on growth.


Antihistamines are commonly used to treat allergic rhinitis. These medications counter the effects of histamine, the irritating chemical released within your body when an allergic reaction takes place. Although other chemicals are involved, histamine is primarily responsible for causing the symptoms. Antihistamines are found in eyedrops, nasal sprays and, most commonly, oral tablets and syrup.

Antihistamines help to relieve nasal allergy symptoms such as:

  • Sneezing and an itchy, runny nose
  • Eye itching, burning, tearing and redness
  • Itchy skin, hives and eczema

There are dozens of antihistamines; some are available over the counter, while others require a prescription. Patients respond to them in a wide variety of ways.

Generally, the newer (second-generation) products work well and produce only minor side effects. Some people find that an antihistamine becomes less effective as the allergy season worsens or as their allergies change over time. If you find that an antihistamine is becoming less effective, tell your allergist, who may recommend a different type or strength of antihistamine. If you have excessive nasal dryness or thick nasal mucus, consult an allergist before taking antihistamines. Contact your allergist for advice if an antihistamine causes drowsiness or other side effects.

Proper use: Short-acting antihistamines can be taken every four to six hours, while timed-release antihistamines are taken every 12 to 24 hours. The short-acting antihistamines are often most helpful if taken 30 minutes before an anticipated exposure to an allergen (such as at a picnic during ragweed season). Timed-release antihistamines are better suited to long-term use for those who need daily medications. Proper use of these drugs is just as important as their selection. The most effective way to use them is before symptoms develop. A dose taken early can eliminate the need for many later doses to reduce established symptoms. Many times a patient will say that he or she “took one, and it didn’t work.” If the patient had taken the antihistamine regularly for three to four days to build up blood levels of the medication, it might have been effective.

Side effects: Older (first-generation) antihistamines may cause drowsiness or performance impairment, which can lead to accidents and personal injury. Even when these medications are taken only at bedtime, they can still cause considerable impairment the following day, even in people who do not feel drowsy. For this reason, it is important that you do not drive a car or work with dangerous machinery when you take a potentially sedating antihistamine. Some of the newer antihistamines do not cause drowsiness.

A frequent side effect is excessive dryness of the mouth, nose and eyes. Less common side effects include restlessness, nervousness, overexcitability, insomnia, dizziness, headaches, euphoria, fainting, visual disturbances, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal distress, constipation, diarrhea, increased or decreased urination, urinary retention, high or low blood pressure, nightmares (especially in children), sore throat, unusual bleeding or bruising, chest tightness or palpitations. Men with prostate enlargement may encounter urinary problems while on antihistamines. Consult your allergist if these reactions occur.

Important precautions:

  • Follow your allergist’s instructions.
  • Alcohol and tranquilizers increase the sedation side effects of antihistamines.
  • Do not use more than one antihistamine at a time, unless prescribed.
  • Keep these medications out of the reach of children.
  • Know how the medication affects you before working with heavy machinery, driving or doing other performance-intensive tasks; some products can slow your reaction time.
  • Some antihistamines appear to be safe to take during pregnancy, but there have not been enough studies to determine the absolute safety of antihistamines in pregnancy. Again, consult your allergist or your obstetrician if you must take antihistamines.
  • While antihistamines have been taken safely by millions of people in the last 50 years, don’t take antihistamines before telling your allergist if you are allergic to, or intolerant of, any medicine; are pregnant or intend to become pregnant while using this medication; are breast-feeding; have glaucoma or an enlarged prostate; or are ill.
  • Never take anyone else’s medication.


Decongestants help relieve the stuffiness and pressure caused by swollen nasal tissue. They do not contain antihistamines, so they do not cause antihistaminic side effects. They do not relieve other symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Oral decongestants are available as prescription and nonprescription medications and are often found in combination with antihistamines or other medications. It is not uncommon for patients using decongestants to experience insomnia if they take the medication in the afternoon or evening. If this occurs, a dose reduction may be needed. At times, men with prostate enlargement may encounter urinary problems while on decongestants. Patients using medications to manage emotional or behavioral problems should discuss this with their allergist before using decongestants. Patients with high blood pressure or heart disease should check with their allergist before using. Pregnant patients should also check with their allergist before starting decongestants.

Nonprescription decongestant nasal sprays work within minutes and last for hours, but you should not use them for more than a few days at a time unless instructed by your allergist. Prolonged use can cause rhinitis medicamentosa, or rebound swelling of the nasal tissue. Stopping the use of the decongestant nasal spray will cure that swelling, provided that there is no underlying disorder.

Oral decongestants are found in many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications, and may be the treatment of choice for nasal congestion. They don’t cause rhinitis medicamentosa but need to be avoided by some patients with high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure or heart problems, check with your allergist before using them.

Nasal sprays

Nonprescription saline nasal sprays will help counteract symptoms such as dry nasal passages or thick nasal mucus. Unlike decongestant nasal sprays, a saline nasal spray can be used as often as it is needed. Sometimes an allergist may recommend washing (douching) the nasal passage. There are many OTC delivery systems for saline rinses, including neti pots and saline rinse bottles.

Nasal cromolyn blocks the body’s release of allergy-causing substances. It does not work in all patients. The full dose is four times daily, and improvement of symptoms may take several weeks. Nasal cromolyn can help prevent allergic nasal reactions if taken prior to an allergen exposure.

Nasal ipratropium bromide spray can help reduce nasal drainage from allergic rhinitis or some forms of nonallergic rhinitis.

Leukatriene pathway inhibitors

Leukotriene pathway inhibitors (montelukast, zafirlukast and zileuton) block the action of leukotriene, a substance in the body that can cause symptoms of allergic rhinitis. These drugs are also used to treat asthma.


Immunotherapy may be recommended for people who don’t respond well to treatment with medications or who experience side effects from medications, who have allergen exposure that is unavoidable or who desire a more permanent solution to their allergies. Immunotherapy can be very effective in controlling allergic symptoms, but it doesn’t help the symptoms produced by nonallergic rhinitis.

Two types of immunotherapy are available: allergy shots and sublingual (under-the-tongue) tablets.

  • Allergy shots: A treatment program, which can take three to five years, consists of injections of a diluted allergy extract, administered frequently in increasing doses until a maintenance dose is reached. Then the injection schedule is changed so that the same dose is given with longer intervals between injections. Immunotherapy helps the body build resistance to the effects of the allergen, reduces the intensity of symptoms caused by allergen exposure and sometimes can actually make skin test reactions disappear. As resistance develops over several months, symptoms should improve.
  • Sublingual tablets: This type of immunotherapy was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2014. Starting several months before allergy season begins, patients dissolve a tablet under the tongue daily. Treatment can continue for as long as three years. Only a few allergens (certain grass and ragweed pollens and house dust mite) can be treated now with this method, but it is a promising therapy for the future.

Eye allergy preparations and eyedrops

Eye allergy preparations may be helpful when the eyes are affected by the same allergens that trigger rhinitis, causing redness, swelling, watery eyes and itching. OTC eyedrops and oral medications are commonly used for short-term relief of some eye allergy symptoms. They may not relieve all symptoms, though, and prolonged use of some of these drops may actually cause your condition to worsen.

Prescription eyedrops and oral medications also are used to treat eye allergies. Prescription eyedrops provide both short- and long-term targeted relief of eye allergy symptoms, and can be used to manage them.

Check with your allergist or pharmacist if you are unsure about a specific drug or formula.

Treatments that are not recommended for allergic rhinitis

  • Antibiotics: Effective for the treatment of bacterial infections, antibiotics do not affect the course of uncomplicated common colds (a viral infection) and are of no benefit for noninfectious rhinitis, including allergic rhinitis.
  • Nasal surgery: Surgery is not a treatment for allergic rhinitis, but it may help if patients have nasal polyps or chronic sinusitis that is not responsive to antibiotics or nasal steroid sprays.

By: Richard Gans, MD

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If you have red, itchy eyes and it’s hay fever time, you likely assume that allergies are causing the problem — and that you can treat it on your own with over-the-counter eye drops. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as that.

Even if you find a guide to help you choose the best eye drops from the drugstore aisle, you may treat for allergies when the real problem is an eye infection.

Before you head to the drugstore, here’s what you need to know about these two very different conditions.

Allergies or infection? Here’s how you can tell

Whether ragweed or pet dander is the culprit, allergens affect the eyes in the same way.

Eye infections can come from many causes — virus, bacteria, parasite or fungus — and the symptoms vary with the cause, but in general, infections have a longer list of symptoms when compared to allergies.

Common Symptoms Allergies Infections
Redness X X
Itching X X
Burning X X
Clear, watery discharge X X
Pain X
Gritty feel in eyes X
Sensitivity to light X
Thick discharge X – Bacterial
Mucus-like discharge X – Viral

The bottom line is that if anything more than tear-like fluids come from your eye or you feel eye pain, it’s likely more than allergies.

To get the right treatment, you’ll need your eye doctor to find out what’s behind your eye problem.

Eye allergies aren’t contagious but they can be miserable to deal with. If it’s an infection, you run the risk of damaging your eye and/or spreading it to others.

How can you avoid eye problems?

You can minimize your risks for both eye allergies and infections. Keeping windows shut and other easily implemented strategies can help you survive seasonal allergies, while an air purifier can help you cope with indoor allergies.

Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is the most common eye infection, caused by a virus or bacteria. Either way, it’s easily spread.

Frequent hand washing is just one way to help prevent pink eye and other contagious diseases. Taking care with makeup and cosmetic contact lenses also helps prevent bacterial pink eye from spreading.

What to do when allergies or infections strike

Even if you fight the good fight, you may still sometimes need relief from itchy, watery eyes. Depending on your diagnosis, here are treatments that can help.

For allergies: Topical medications are usually better than general allergy remedies for treating eye allergies. Many allergy eye drops are extremely successful in treating symptoms. Some actually work to prevent symptoms by preventing the allergic reaction from getting started.

Your doctor may suggest short-term medications to help control inflammation, such as steroid or anti-inflammatory eye drops. Over-the-counter artificial tears also can help keep eyes moistened and flush out allergens.

For infections: Viral infections generally clear up on their own, but cold compresses and lubricating eye drops can minimize symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops to treat a bacterial eye infection.

For eye infections caused by fungi and parasites, the medication will depend on what’s causing the problem. Your eye doctor can help sort that out.

Getting quick diagnosis and treatment is the key when you have irritated eyes. No matter what’s causing the problem, your eye doctor can help you find the right treatment and the relief you need.

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