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One in five adults in the U.S. has nasal allergies, or allergic rhinitis. Yet as common as it is, experts say that allergic rhinitis is underdiagnosed, undertreated, and underestimated.

“Allergic rhinitis is a trivialized disease,” says Jonathan A. Bernstein, MD, an allergist at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “Obviously, nobody dies from it. But it does cause a tremendous amount of sickness and suffering.”

All that sneezing, congestion, and teary-eyed misery takes a toll. Allergic rhinitis can cause missed workdays, and it can detract from your performance at school or on the job. Because of this, allergic rhinitis costs the country billions of dollars every year.

Nasal allergies can also lead to other conditions such as sinus problems. But they don’t have to.

“Allergic rhinitis is a treatable problem,” Bernstein says, “and when people get diagnosed and treated properly, they do very well.” If you’ve been limping through life with nasal allergies, it’s time to get the best of them.

Nasal Allergies and Sinus Problems

Allergy symptoms are miserable enough on their own. But in many people, allergic rhinitis can cause -- or aggravate -- other complications or conditions.

What’s the connection between allergies and sinus problems?

Sinuses are hollow pockets in the skull that are connected to the nasal passages. When allergies trigger swelling in the mucous membranes, the inflamed tissue can block off the sinuses. The sinuses can’t drain, trapping mucus and air inside. That leads to pain and pressure.

Take Allergy Symptoms Seriously

Despite the misery of allergies and their complications, many people don’t take the symptoms very seriously.

They don’t realize the impact that their allergies are having on their lives, especially when added up over years and decades, says Leonard Bielory, MD, professor of allergy and immunology at Rutgers University.

They get used to the congestion, chronic sinus problems, and mouth breathing. They get used to disturbed sleep and fatigue. After a while, they just don’t remember what life was like before allergies.

When symptoms get bad, they make do. They grab over-the-counter medicines at random at the drugstore. They make guesses at the cause of their allergies and half-hearted attempts to control their exposure, but never get a diagnosis.

That’s not the way to go about it, experts say. Given the impact that nasal allergies can have on your life, you really need to get proper medical evaluation and treatment.

Allergic Rhinitis Treatments: Over-the-Counter Medicine

For mild allergic rhinitis -- or symptoms that only strike for a few weeks a year -- over-the-counter medicines may be enough. OTC treatments for allergic rhinitis include:

Antihistamines. These drugs work by blocking histamine, a chemical that causes many allergy symptoms. They help relieve itching and sneezing. Examples include certirizine (Zyrtec), chlorpheniramine (Ahist, Chlor-Trimeton), diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Genahist), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Agistam, Alavert, Claritin).

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