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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.

    Allergies Can Hit Hard

    What we know as "hay fever" is known medically as allergic rhinitis. Over the spring and summer, trees, grasses, weeds, and ragweed release their pollen. If you're sensitive, your immune system will send an army of histamines on attack. Histamines are chemicals that trigger inflammation in the sinuses, nose, and eyes.

    It's a downward spiral into fits of sneezing, congestion, postnasal drip, runny nose, and itchy eyes. You may feel worse on some days than on others -- depending on what's blooming, the pollen count, and your sensitivities.

    "What slows people down is the fuzzy feeling in your head ... which makes you feel disoriented, disconnected, makes it hard to focus," Pacheco says.

    Pollen on the Rise

    Hay fever is a public health problem that is only getting worse, as the sheer volume of pollen in the air is increasing, Pacheco tells WebMD. "With global warming, ragweed and other allergenic plants are producing more pollen -- especially in urban areas," she tells WebMD. Also, there is some evidence that air pollution (especially diesel pollution) could cause more people to develop hay fever and other allergies.

    Yet only 50% of people with allergies consider it a serious medical condition, one poll showed. Less than one-third consulted an allergist or doctor the last time their symptoms acted up. Also:

    • 43% said that allergies affected their productivity at work.
    • 50% said their ability to concentrate was impaired.
    • 68% had trouble getting a good night's sleep.

    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.

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