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Blocking Allergy Symptoms: How Pretreatment Works

Tackle allergies before they start, and you could be breathing a lot easier.

What Is Allergy Pretreatment? continued...

“The sooner you get on your medicine, the better,” Windom says. What type of medicine works best for pretreatment of allergies? That depends on your case.

“There’s no ideal drug for preventing allergy symptoms,” Windom says. “Choosing the best drug depends a lot on what worked for you in the past.”

Any allergy medicine can work as pretreatment, more or less. Antihistamines are an excellent choice, experts say. Examples of over-the-counter antihistamines are Benadryl or Claritin. Prescription antihistamines, like the nasal spray Astelin, are another option. Other allergy medicines that work in different ways, such as steroids -- like Flonase, Nasonex, or Veramyst -- can also help.

What if you don’t take the medicine before your symptoms start? Don’t despair. “Being off by a day or two is not a big deal,” Windom tells WebMD. “But don’t wait a whole week, since by then you might already have a cough, and congestion, or worse.”

If you’re pretreating every year, how will you know if you’ve outgrown your allergies?

Don’t worry, says Windom, most adults don’t outgrown chronic allergies.  “If you’re in your thirties or forties, and you’ve had an allergy to ragweed pollen for twenty years, it’s not going to be any different next year,” says Windom. Children are an exception, he says, since they can genuinely outgrow allergies.

Obviously, follow your doctor’s directions on how to use your medicine as allergy pretreatment. Typically, you would continue to use it regularly until the season is over.

Preventing Allergy Symptoms: Environmental Control and Allergy Shots

While medicines are important, don’t forget about environmental control. If you can limit your exposure to an allergen, you can prevent or dampen your body’s allergic reaction.

“I think too many allergists don’t bother talking to patients about environmental control,” says Bernstein. “They don’t give their patients enough credit and just prescribe them medicines.” Bernstein says that environmental control should be a crucial part of treatment.

Don’t wait until after allergy symptoms start before making changes to your environment and behavior. As the pollen season approaches, get in the habit of keeping your windows closed. In the spring, install your air conditioners early, since they’re ideal for filtering the outside air that comes into your home.

While most allergy treatments are only temporary fixes, allergy shots -- or immunotherapy -- can offer a more or less permanent solution. By exposing your body to regular, small doses of an allergen -- by injections under the skin -- your immune system can learn to cope without triggering an allergic reaction. Gradually, the doses are increased. Eventually -- and in most cases -- even a large amount of the allergen won’t cause allergy symptoms.

Allergy shots aren’t for everyone. They’re only recommended for people who have allergies more than three months of the year. And they’re not a quick fix, requiring months of injections. But if you’re a good candidate medically and have the willpower, they can be life-changing.

“In correctly chosen patients, the success rate of immunotherapy is over 95%,” says Pramod S. Kelkar, MD, chair of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s Cough Taskforce.

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