What's the treatment for spring allergies?
Doctors treat spring allergies with a number of over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Over-the-counter allergy drugs are effective for many people and include the following:
- Antihistamines reduce sneezing, sniffling, and itching by lowering the amount of histamine (the substance produced during an allergic reaction) in the body.
- Decongestants clear mucus out of the nasal passageways to relieve congestion and swelling.
- Antihistamine/decongestants combine the effects of both drugs.
- Nasal spray decongestants relieve congestion and may clear clogged nasal passages faster than oral decongestants.
- Steroid nasal sprays reduce inflammation. Only two, Nasacort and Flonase, are currently available over the counter.
- Cromolyn sodium nasal spray can help prevent hay fever by stopping the release of histamine before it can trigger allergy symptoms.
- Eye drops relieve itchy, watery eyes.
Even though you can buy these allergy drugs without a prescription, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first to make sure you choose the right medication. Some antihistamines can make you feel sleepy, so you need to be careful when taking them during the day (although non-drowsy formulations are also available). Don’t use over-the-counter antihistamines and decongestants for more than a few days without talking to your doctor.
If over-the-counter remedies don’t help allergies, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication, allergy shots, or even under-the-tongue immunotherapy tablets. Many steroid nasal sprays are available by prescription also. Allergy shots expose the body to gradually increasing doses of the allergen until you become tolerant of it. Immunotherapy tablets placed under the tongue work the same way. They can relieve your symptoms for a longer period of time than oral and nasal allergy medications. Although they don’t work for everyone, in people who do see a response, allergy shots can stave off symptoms for a few years.
Some allergy sufferers turn to natural therapies for relief, although the research is mixed on their effectiveness:
- Butterbur. The herb butterbur, which comes from a European shrub, shows potential for relieving seasonal allergy symptoms. Some studies have shown butterbur -- specifically a butterbur extract called Ze 399 -- to be as effective for reducing allergy symptoms as the antihistamines Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec.
- Quercetin. This flavonoid, which is found naturally in onions, apples, and black tea, has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown in research to block histamines.
- Stinging nettle. The roots and leaves of the stinging nettle plant (Urtica dioica) have been used to treat everything from joint pain to prostate problems. Although some people use freeze-dried stinging nettle leaves to treat allergy symptoms, there isn’t much research to show that it works.
- Nasal irrigation. Nasal irrigation with a combination of warm water, about a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and a quarter-teaspoon of baking soda may help clear out mucus and open sinus passages. You can administer the solution through a squeeze bottle or a neti pot -- a device that looks like a small teapot. Use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. It’s also important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave open to air dry.
Just because a spring allergy treatment says “natural” doesn’t mean that it is safe. Some herbal remedies can cause side effects or can react with medications you’re taking. Talk to your doctor before you start taking any herb or supplement.