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5 Ways to Beat Spring Allergies

One of the nation's top allergy experts explains how to control and treat spring allergies this year.

Know Your OTC Allergy Medications

Three main kinds of over-the-counter (OTC) medications are used to help control seasonal allergies: topical nasal sprays, inhaled corticosteroids, and antihistamines; oral antihistamines; and decongestants.

If you have mild seasonal allergies, nasal sprays and inhalants and oral OTC antihistamines can both effectively manage your symptoms. Despite what you might have heard, antihistamines are not addictive, although they can lose some of their effectiveness over a few months.

If your symptoms are not controlled, consider switching brands periodically to make sure your medication is still packing the greatest punch. You may want to buy the kind that is called "nonsedating" on the label (unless you're planning to go straight to bed after taking them).

Sublett doesn't advise using OTC decongestants for allergies, although many people do. "They're designed for use with a cold, for seven days or less, while allergies last for weeks," Sublett explains. "They work by reducing the blood flow to your nose, letting you breathe better." However, nasal decongestants should be taken on a short-term basis only. If used for more than a week, a disorder called rhinitis medicamentosa may occur, where rebound nasal congestion (when congestion returns and gets worse) occurs each time the medication wears off.

Also, oral decongestants can cause significant side effects, including an elevation in blood pressure, nervousness, and sometimes heart palpitations. If you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, or heart conditions, talk to your doctor first before trying decongestants.

Control Allergies by Controlling Your Environment

You don't want to have to stay indoors on a beautiful day just because you have allergies. But if you're going to be working outside, consider wearing a protective allergy face mask for tasks like mowing the grass, raking leaves, or washing the car. Depending on how severe your allergies are, you can buy a simple disposable paper mask or a more long-lasting "respirator mask" with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

Remember Sublett's advice about starting allergy medications early in the season so your allergic response doesn't get out of control? That applies to your daily life as well. If you're working outside in the afternoon, take your allergy medication at lunch so it will have a chance to get into your system before the pollen does.

"Keep an eye on the pollen counts, and try to plan more of your outdoor work for days when pollen counts are expected to be low and it's not so windy," says Sublett. If you have a smartphone, download an app that gives you regular pollen updates.

What about inside? "There's a myth that if you keep your windows shut, you'll be OK," Sublett says. "But homes have to have ventilation, and about one-third of what's outside gets inside no matter what you do."

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