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Allergy Symptoms Shouldn't Be Ignored

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"It's scary," he tells WebMD. "The magnitude of the effect was pretty significant. I think the problem is, not all medications are available OTC, so they're really limiting themselves. But if they visit a doctor, they can get a treatment with less side effects."

Children's hay-fever allergies are often underdiagnosed and undertreated, Houston pediatrician Stuart Abramson, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "Some people just think the kids are getting colds all the time, or that kids should have snotty noses all the time, that it's just part of being a child. Children who have allergic rhinitis that's not controlled can have problems with sleeping because their nose is obstructed, there's snoring, and if they don't sleep well, then they may not perform well in school. There also may be excessive mouth breathing." Abramson is assistant professor of pediatrics, microbiology and immunology at Baylor College of Medicine.

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."

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