Plagued by Pollen
Preventive tips, treatments, and more: Your survival guide for the spring allergy season.
Treatments range from OTC to alternative
Here's how to get the right treatment for your symptoms. If you have:
Mild hay fever: An over-the-counter product may be all you
need. The key ingredient-antihistamine-targets histamines, which are chemicals
your body makes in response to allergens. Histamines cause runny noses and
eyes, itching, and sneezing. Check product labels about a risk of drowsiness
with some products. Non-drowsy antihistamines are also available.
Severe or long-lasting hay fever: If over-the-counter
medicines aren't working, see a physician. "These days, with the
medications that are available, seasonal allergies are usually very well
controlled," says Michael Schatz, MD. Prescription medications come in
three forms: antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, and medicines targeting
allergy-related chemicals called leukotrienes. Any doctor can prescribe those
drugs, not just allergists, says Williams.
Acupuncture, part of traditional Chinese medicine, has shown promise in some
allergy studies. In acupuncture, very fine needles are inserted into specific
points on the body to rebalance what practitioners call chi, or vital
Although there is little research on the use of supplements for hay fever,
one herb has undergone clinical testing. One study showed that an extract
called butterbur Ze330 worked as well as a prescription antihistamine. It also
did not cause sleepiness, which may make it a better option than some
over-the-counter allergy remedies.
Researchers have also looked at vitamin C and other supplements, such as
urtica dioica, bromelain, quercetin, and N-acetylcysteine, for fighting
allergies. At this point, there is little evidence that they work.
Tell your doctors about any other treatments or products you're taking so
they can watch for interactions with medicines.
A Shot of Hope
Allergy shots can be very effective, Schatz says. But they're not an instant
fix or the first option most people try (nor are they a good idea for people
with heart disease or uncontrolled asthma). They also take time. Allergy shots
can take a year to help.
Typically, patients try allergy shots if other allergy drugs haven't helped
or if they need allergy medicines for more than half of the year.
Allergy shots require repeated doctor visits. First, doctors pinpoint the
allergy's source. They prick the skin with tiny allergen doses, checking for