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Allergies Health Center

Plagued by Pollen

Preventive tips, treatments, and more: Your survival guide for the spring allergy season.
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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.

Alternative Approaches

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 energy.

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 allergic reactions.

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