So. Much. Pollen. We Talked to an Allergy Specialist About It. 

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Photo by – Chad Robertson.


Noticing itchier eyes than usual for this time of year? Sniffles? Sinus headaches? Has your partner or roommate been complaining that you’re snoring? 

If so, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. 

The pollen count has hit record highs in the Triangle this season according to North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality reports. The length and intensity of spring pollen counts has been increasing annually over the past few years, both in North Carolina and around the country, a trend that experts attribute to the effects of climate change.

Right now, we’re mostly breathing tree pollens, but later in the spring, we’ll see grass pollens emerge. You can find out what specific pollen types are currently high at You can find out how high the pollen count is on a daily basis at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s daily pollen report.

So what’s a sniffly person with itchy eyes to do? We asked Jonathan Romeo, D.O., a board-certified allergist with Allergy Partners of the Triangle in Raleigh, a few questions about managing allergy symptoms during this unusually allergen-heavy spring season.

Question: If you want to manage your allergies in your home, what remedies do you recommend? 

Answer: There’s no foolproof home remedy. Being aware of the days that have the highest pollen counts and trying to stay indoors a little bit more on those days can help. Air filters are a little bit more of a question mark. I know a lot of people like to rely on air filters. Whole-house HEPA filtration [a high-efficiency mechanical air filter] might provide a reduction in allergens, but just in rooms, stand-alone air units aren’t always the most effective thing. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot you can do. Any time you’re coming in and out, [pollen] gets all over you, so there’s not a lot you can do to your home that’s going to dramatically reduce your allergen exposure.


Question: What can you do at home to reduce your symptoms once you’ve been exposed to allergens?

Answer: If you’ve been spending time outdoors, taking a shower and getting out of your clothes as soon as you come in can definitely be helpful. One home remedy you might consider is doing a sinus rinse after you’ve been outdoors just to kind of flush your sinuses out of all the pollen that might have gotten up there.


Question: Do you have any particular recommendations for over-the-counter medications that relieve allergies? 

Answer: If patients ask me, I say my usual go-tos are Zyrtec and Allegra. Allegra is probably the least sedating of all of the over-the-counter antihistamines. If people are asking me for one go-to medication, I usually recommend a nasal steroid. That’s probably the most effective all-around medication to treat, not just the sneezing and the itching, which the antihistamines mostly treat, but also the congestion, which antihistamines aren’t as good at treating. 

The big downside with Flonase or Nasacort or Rhinocort [all nasal steroids]  is, they work better if you use them every day. So if you’re just using them as-needed, once in a while, you’ll get some benefit, but it’s not as effective as if you’re using it every day. So that’s why Astepro [a nasal spray antihistamine recently approved for over-the-counter use] can be a nice thing. Because Astepro treats all the symptoms, including congestion, but with the Astepro nasal spray, you’ll get almost the full benefit every single time you use it. And the nose sprays don’t tend to make people as drowsy.


Question: What about eye drops?

Answer: I would honestly pick up a bottle of Pataday. It’s pretty effective.


Question: At what point would you recommend seeing a doctor for allergies?

Answer: If you suffer from [allergies] year-round or if it’s a particularly bad or long season for you, or if you’ve tried the medications and they just aren’t providing as much effectiveness as you would like. Or  if you just hate the idea of taking medications every year, because medicines are only treating the symptoms, right? They’re not treating the underlying [problem]. 

Seeing an allergist can be a really good thing to do. One, we can confirm what’s causing your allergies, and then we have the availability of offering people allergy shots or even allergy drops, which can be effective to reduce symptoms. With allergy shots in particular, over time, we can actually change a patient’s immune system so they’re not allergic anymore. We do the shots for a couple of years, but when we take people off, they have very long-term effectiveness.


Jonathan Romeo, D.O., is a board-certified allergist with Allergy Partners of the Triangle.

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