Surviving Allergies: What You Can Do

If you dread the approach of spring and the arrival of allergy season, here are a few ways to reduce your sniffling, sneezing, and itchy eyes.

What to Do

If you take medication to control your symptoms, start treatment early — before your seasonal allergies flare up, says BJ Ferguson, MD, director of the Division of Sino-Nasal Disorders and Allergy at UPMC, and a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

In western Pennsylvania, tree pollen starts flying around by the end of February or in early March, when it warms up enough for trees to begin budding.

Medications to Take

Dr. Ferguson recommends starting with an over-the-counter (OTC) medication, preferably a non-sedating antihistamine. She cautions that some products can be sedating or even result in extreme drowsiness that can impair driving. Be sure to read the accompanying instructions or ask your pharmacist about side effects.

OTC decongestants can relieve nasal congestion but should only be used on a short-term basis, Dr. Ferguson says. Decongestants can cause significant side effects, such as insomnia, agitation, heart palpitations, and a rise in blood pressure. A saline nasal wash also can help relieve congestion.

When to See a Doctor

“If you are getting no relief and it is impairing your quality of life, you should see a doctor about more effective alternatives and testing,” says Dr. Ferguson.

  • A doctor can prescribe medications that can provide effective relief from chronic congestion.
  • Allergy testing can determine precisely what you are or aren’t allergic to. A new sublingual immunotherapy administered under the tongue is just as effective as allergy shots, and with fewer side effects, says Dr. Ferguson.
  • Your doctor also can determine if your nasal blockage is caused by inflammation or nasal polyps, a deviated septum, enlarged adenoids, or an infection.

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