Treating Spring Allergies
If avoiding allergens isn't enough to keep symptoms at bay, you can try over-the-counter antihistamines to treat symptoms, Becker and Bajowala say.
"It's very reasonable to try an over-the-counter antihistamine," Bajowala says. When exposed to allergens, an allergic person’s body releases histamines, which attach to the body’s cells, resulting in allergic symptoms. Antihistamines stop allergy symptoms such as itching of the nose and throat and sneezing by blocking the action of histamines.
If you have itchy eyes, over-the-counter eye drops may help, she says.
Over-the-counter decongestants may help with nasal stuffiness from allergies. These medications constrict vessels in the nasal passages and reduce swelling. Options include oral and nasal spray decongestants.
Because decongestants may raise blood pressure, you should ask your doctor before taking if you have heart disease or high blood pressure. Also, ask your doctor before taking if you have thyroid disease, an enlarged prostate gland, or diabetes.
Although you can take over-the-counter oral decongestants for up to a week if necessary, you should not use nasal decongestant sprays for more than three days because they may lead to increased nasal congestion with longer use.
Read the label for more information about side effects, and be sure to follow the dosing directions for over-the-counter medications.
Another option is cromolyn (Nasalcrom), she says, but it needs to be taken three or four times a day. This nasal spray reduces the release of histamines.
If the over-the-counter medications don't work, consider seeing an allergist, Becker says. A doctor’s advice may help you if allergies give you trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating at work or school, or recurrent allergy problems. An allergist can prescribe other medications as well.
If you don’t know what you’re allergic to, you might consider allergy testing, Bajowala says.
Skin tests can be more accurate than blood tests, Becker and Bajowala agree. "For inhalants like pollens, skin testing is better," Becker says. "It's a little more sensitive."
In a skin test, a doctor inserts a tiny bit of the allergen itself under the skin, Bajowala says. If you’re allergic to that substance, redness and a bump will appear on your skin within minutes.
Blood tests detect antibodies to the pollens. Becker uses them for people who don't tolerate skin testing.
Who Should Consider Allergy Immunotherapy?
A final step is to consider allergy immunotherapy, better known as allergy shots. ''Immunotherapy is essentially a way of retraining your immune system to tolerate something that it is currently overreacting to," Bajowala says.
"What we do with immunotherapy is reintroduce in small amounts the very things the person is allergic to," she says. It’s a long-term method: It might take six months of regular injections to find the correct maintenance dose. The shots may reduce or eliminate your need for other allergy medications.
This maintenance dose may continue for three to five years, and the length of treatment varies. After that, Bajowala says, you can try stopping the shots and see if the symptoms recur. Some patients find relief after immunotherapy for up to 10 years, she says,
"The beauty of immunotherapy is it's very, very effective at decreasing symptoms and decreasing the amount of medication you need," she says.
Another kind of immunotherapy is under study. It involves putting an allergen under the tongue and is called sublingual immunotherapy (or allergy drops). But it's not yet approved in the U.S., Becker and Bajowala say.