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Living With Severe Allergies

Experts share 3 strategies to cope with chronic allergies.

Controlling Pollen

While some allergy-prone people take great pains to plant so-called ''low-allergy" trees and shrubs, it's not foolproof. "Pollen can travel great distances," Miller says.

"Even if your yard has 'low allergy' trees, pollen can come from miles away," Miller says.

With pollen, agrees Gupta, "There's only so much you can do without having to live in a bubble. If you are indoors, keep your windows shut, use the air conditioner, drive with the car windows shut."

Controlling Mold

Molds are more an outdoor problem than indoor, says Williams, unless your plumbing indoors is leaking. If the bathroom shower or tub gets a little mold ring around it, he says, it typically won't bother the allergy-prone unless it's disturbed and the spores become airborne.

To get rid of household mold, apply a cleaning solution of 5% bleach and a small amount of detergent, suggest experts from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

Outdoors, airborne mold from vegetation can trigger an allergic reaction, too. Allergic reactions to mold are most common from July to late summer, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Allergy Strategy 3: Obtain Good Treatment

Allergy treatment won’t "cure" your allergies, but they can significantly reduce your allergy symptoms.  Key treatments include antihistamines and decongestants. Antihistamines treat the runny nose and itching eyes and nose. Decongestants reduce the stuffiness.

Prescription nasal steroid sprays also help, Williams says. Nasal steroid sprays prevent the release of substances that inflame mucus membranes, thus reducing your inflammation. "For these to be most effective they need to be used on a regular basis," he says.

Another option, says Miller, is to use antihistamine nasal sprays; there are even some prescription-strength sprays approved to treat seasonal allergies.

The asthma prescription drug montelukast can also help allergy symptoms, Miller says.

Immunotherapy, better known as allergy shots, can help, too, he says. "Those are for people whose allergies are difficult to control [even with medication or environmental measures], or people who don't want to continue taking medication all their lives," Miller says.

For some people, the medications may not work as well over time, Gupta says. "Patients often tell me the medications that worked last year don't work this year." Some patients can switch to another medication; other patients may consider immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy can also reduce the risk of developing asthma, Miller says.  "It's never too late to start."

Before you start allergy shots, your allergist will do a series of tests to pinpoint which allergens cause your allergies. Then, typically, allergy shots are given twice a week for a few months, tapered to once a week for about six months, then every one to four weeks for up to five years, Miller says.

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Reviewed on April 23, 2009

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