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How to Survive Spring Allergy Season

Top allergy experts answer the 10 most pressing questions on treatment, care, and prevention of spring allergies.
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Spring is in the air. Literally. From weeds to spores to grass and tree pollens, the warm weather is almost here, driving airborne allergen levels through the roof. That means your allergy symptoms -- the sniffling, sneezing, and itchy eyes -- are in overdrive and apt to stay that way for months.

What can you do? WebMD asked some of the country's leading allergy experts to weigh in with answers to your top questions about spring allergies. Here are suggestions for helping you find some much-needed relief this season.

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In spring, people rush out of doors. They jog. They stroll. They smell the flowers. And ...They sneeze. Sometimes a lot. People with spring allergies know the drill: The itchy, watery eyes, blocked ears, and nasal congestion that can put a crimp in even the sunniest spring day. “A lot of times you don’t sleep well at night,” says Giselle Mosnaim, MD, professor of allergy and immunology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “And if you don’t sleep well at night, you can be tired and...

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How do I know what I'm allergic to?

There is a world of spring allergens out there. How can you possibly figure out which one is playing havoc with your eyes, nose, and throat?

"The allergy skin test is the quickest, most inexpensive, and most accurate way to find out what you are allergic to, whether it's mold, grass pollen, or a type of weed," says Neil Kao, MD, an internal medicine physician specializing in allergy and immunology at the Allergic Disease and Asthma Center in Greenville, S.C.

Talk with your primary care doctor or an allergist. Both can give you an allergy test. The skin is pricked slightly to allow an allergen, such as grass or mold, to enter the outer layer; after about 15 to 20 minutes, the physician will check for a reaction, such as hives or redness and swelling, which will identify the specific allergen causing your symptoms.

How can I manage my allergies using over-the-counter medication?

Spring allergy relief is within your reach -- on your local drugstore's shelves. "Start by taking an over-the-counter, non-sedating antihistamine, such as generic Claritin, every morning.  If your nose remains congested, add a saline nasal rinse or oral decongestant pill (if you don't have high blood pressure). You can also take a long-acting decongestant nose spray for a few days, if necessary. If these treatments don't clear your nasal congestion, ask your doctor about adding a corticosteroid nose spray," says Paul Enright, MD, WebMD's allergy expert and research professor of medicine and public health at the University of Arizona.

Other over-the-counter tools for managing your allergies are lozenges to soothe a sore throat, which can be irritated by postnasal drip from your runny nose, and antihistamine eyedrops to relieve itchy, watery eyes.

Look for antihistamine on the label when shopping for eyedrops; these treat the root of your allergy symptoms, instead of eyedrops that just relieve the redness (also known as decongestant eyedrops). If you do buy the latter, be sure you don't use them for more than two to three days -- over time you will need more and more to relieve the redness.

Are nasal sprays really addictive?

The rumors are true: Some over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays can be addicting if not used as a short-term solution. You want to find a nonaddicting nasal spray if you decide to use this product.

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