Ask The Expert: When to Take What OTC Medication

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I usually recommend you start taking allergy medicines a month, at least, before the spring, because if you're taking them when spring starts, then the pollen count's already there. So you're just-- you're fighting an uphill battle at that point.

So the most common symptoms you're going to see are the itchy, irritated throat and then that dry cough that's just-- basically, you got the mucus running down the back of your throat, just irritating you. So you tend to want to take an antihistamine which basically just helps dry up some of that mucus and stop producing it. So you won't have all that drainage going back there.

When you feel like basically your head's about to explode-- you feel this pressure, you get a headache-- that's when you want to really consider a decongestant to help relieve some of that pressure. Nasal sprays are very good. Most of the nasal sprays either contain a steroid in it, which will help relieve some of the swelling and all that in the area and to stop the post nasal drip. And then there are some that is just, basically, like saline water, and it'll just flush your sinuses to get rid of the mucus that's built up back there.

Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness. So you want to be aware of that before you take it, and you have to start a full day of doing something. Dry mouth is a great big side effect for most antihistamines. You tend to feel like you got that dry, cotton-mouth going on. And then with the decongestants-- raising the blood pressure, things to be really wary of. And the nasal sprays, they're basically corticosteroids to help with the inflammation and swelling. So with diabetics, you could see an elevation in blood sugar levels. So it's just something to keep in mind when you're on it, to keep an eye out for it.