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Allergy Symptoms Shouldn't Be Ignored

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A simple allergy skin test takes about 30 minutes and will tell your doctor whether you have an allergy and exactly which allergens, such as seasonal tree or grass pollens, produce your symptoms.

Treatment revolves around the key allergy-triggering agents: the immune molecules, called IgE antibodies, that cause your body to respond to allergens; and the chemical histamine, which is released during this process. Antihistamines block the action of histamine, the chemical that is responsible for symptoms such as sneezing and runny nose. Nasal steroid sprays deliver a fine mist to the nose's lining and also suppress the allergic response.

Prescription antihistamines and nasal sprays work best, without side effects, says Weiler. "Nasal steroid sprays are often thought to be most effective treatment for the congestion and some of the runny nose, but they don't work quite as well for itching. Antihistamines work best for itching. The upside of OTC drugs is that they're cheaper, but the downside is that they have more side effects, are more likely to cause drowsiness and jitteriness."

Those who have severe seasonal allergies for which nothing else works can get long-term relief with allergy shots. A recent study published in TheNew England Journal of Medicine showed that allergy shots have long-lasting effects, boosting the body's immune system for three years or more.

The best advice, Weiler says, is to talk to your doctor. "It sounds real simple to just pick up an OTC drug from the pharmacy, but that doesn't work for many people. ... They're really limiting themselves. There are much better treatments available with less side effects."

Vital Information:

  • As allergy season approaches, sufferers may experience coughing, sneezing, sleep disturbances, and headaches, but many will forgo a visit to the doctor.
  • A skin test that takes about 30 minutes can determine whether a patient has allergies, and exactly what he or she is allergic to.
  • It's important to talk with a physician about allergy medications, such as prescription antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays, which work well and have few side effects.
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