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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.

When do I need prescription allergy medication? continued...

"The next step is to try prescription-strength medications," says Kao. "Once you get started, you should have your allergies under control in just a week or two." Does this mean you can put your laundry soap away? Not quite, explains Kao. You still need to be vigilant in managing your allergies on your own, but now you can do it with prescription strength on your side.

Some of the prescription medications in your doctor's allergy war chest are:

Antihistamines, such as Claritin, Zyrtec (note: these two are the same formulations as the over-the-counter versions), and Allegra, which block the release of histamine, a chemical that can cause redness, swelling, and itching.

Nasal steroids, including Beconase, Flonase, Nasacort, Nasonex, Rhinocort, and Veramyst, which reduce inflammation and prevent and treat nasal stuffiness, sneezing, and itchy, runny nose brought on by seasonal or year-round allergies.

Leukotriene modifiers, such as Singular, which work by blocking the effects of leukotrienes, chemicals produced in the body in response to an allergen.

All of these medications should be used as directed by your doctor, who will talk to you about how often, for how long, and at what dose you should take your allergy meds.

Do I need allergy shots?

The same formula applies to prescription medications: If your allergy symptoms don't improve over time, the next step may be to take it up a notch with allergy shots. When you start the shots, generally given once or twice a week to begin, you'll probably stay on your prescription medicine to manage your symptoms. If you're like most people, by the time the next allergy season rolls around, you may have started to build up resistance and have milder symptoms. That's when allergy medications are like spare tires, explains Kao -- you use them only if you need them.

Is there hope on the horizon for those with spring allergies?

A new type of therapy could take the place of allergy shots in a few years; it's called sublingual immunotherapy. As with today's allergy shots, you visit your allergist or primary care physician for daily or weekly treatment, but instead of a needle, you get a few drops of an allergen solution under your tongue (that's what "sublingual" means).

The drops are a slow-release immunotherapy, meaning they build up your resistance to allergens over time. Better yet, they might be just as effective as shots, with a lower risk of side effects such as severe allergic reactions.

That's the good news, Factor explains. The bad news is that although sublingual immunotherapy is now in clinical trials, it's not yet available in the United States and probably won't be for a couple of years, pending approval by the FDA. Stay tuned.

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