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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.

Treat Allergies Early

Spring pollen season starts much earlier than many people think. In large swaths of the country, including the eastern seaboard and the Ohio Valley, pollen starts filling the air as soon as the weather warms up just enough for the trees to begin budding.

"Here in Kentucky, we'll see pollen sometimes in mid-February," says Sublett. "As long as you're not in the snow belt up around the Great Lakes, the pollen season starts very early, and by mid-March we'll have our first peak."

This means that if you take medications to control your seasonal allergies, the time to start them is mid- to late-February, not late March. "Allergies create an inflammatory response that is like a smoldering fire. If you can keep it smoldering rather than flaring, you'll do a lot better," says Sublett. "By starting your medications early, you're less likely to have a snowball effect with your symptoms."

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.

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