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Got Hay Fever? Get to Work!

With improved over-the-counter allergy drugs, people are able to function better without allergies knocking them down.

OTC vs. Prescription

"While drugstore shelves are loaded with over-the-counter (OTC) allergy treatments, it's often hard to figure out what you need. A lot of people take Sudafed for allergies, but it's not an antihistamine," Pacheco says. "It helps partially, but not completely because it doesn't block histamine. It's a decongestant, so it will open up your nose, but it doesn't really treat allergies very well."

"Claritin, Claritin-D (with decongestant), plus generic forms of Claritin are very cost-effective and nonsedating," says Sharon Horesh, MD, instructor of clinical medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. Also, there's Mucinex for drainage and postnasal drip that causes coughing.

"For many people, these OTC medications can take the edge off allergies and they can function just fine," Horesh tells WebMD. "The drugs are safe for long-term use, with very few exceptions."

A few caveats: The decongestant in Claritin D can raise blood pressure, so if you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor. Uncommonly, Claritin can cause drowsiness. Also, Claritin can cause excessive drying in a relatively small number of people.

"Hay fever is not a good reason to stay at home, especially with these good products available now," Horesh says.

If you don't get relief from OTC products, see a primary care doctor, she says. "You probably need a prescription antihistamine, which is stronger than Claritin." You may also need a prescription steroid nasal spray like Flonase, Veramyst, Nasonex, Nasocort, or Rhinocort to get better control of nasal congestion or postnasal drip. Some people need prescription eyedrops for itchy eyes.

She gives her patients samples of several brands of antihistamines to try, since some people respond to one but not another. "One person does great with Allegra; for another, only Zyrtec works," she says. "There's an element of trial and error in finding the right one. If you've tried one and it hasn't worked, it's worth trying an alternative. Try one for a week, and if you get no response, move to another."

If you've tried everything with no relief, see an allergist. "If allergy symptoms continue, despite these measures, you probably are highly allergic to multiple things," Horesh says.

Pollen Patrol in Your Environment

Avoiding contact with allergens-- like pollen -- is the tried-and-true advice that allergists give to patients. You can control your exposure to pollen at home, in the car, and outdoors. Here are a few suggestions:

At Home

  • Keep windows closed and use air-conditioning.
  • Cover air-conditioning vents with cheesecloth to filter pollen.
  • Use high-efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA).
  • Clean air filters frequently and air ducts at least once a year.

In the Car

  • Keep windows closed.
  • Set the air conditioner to use recirculated air.

Outdoors

  • Minimize walks in wooded areas or gardens.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible on hot, dry, windy days when pollen counts are highest.
  • Stay indoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when pollen counts are usually highest.
  • Wear a mask when mowing the lawn or gardening.
  • Don't hang linens or clothes out to dry.

In a modern office building, you won't likely encounter pollen, says Pacheco. "Pollen isn't sticky like cat or dog dander is. It doesn't stick to your clothes. You don't track it into your office. Once you're inside, you're not exposed to it."

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Reviewed on March 20, 2008

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