Say Yes to Drugs
If, despite your best efforts to avoid pollen and molds, your nose is still running, drugs can help. For mild symptoms, it's worth trying an over-the-counter (OTC) remedy, says Marshall Plaut, MD, chief of the allergic mechanisms section of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, MD.
If you have glaucoma, or prostate, breathing, or other health problems, or if you take other medications, check with your doctor first. Some allergy remedies can make these conditions worse or interact with other drugs. If an OTC remedy doesn't help, ask your doctor about alternatives, Dr. Plaut suggests. Here's an overview of your options:
Cromolyn Sodium Nasal Spray (OTC) Cromolyn sodium (Nasalcrom) helps combat watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing and causes very few side effects. But it's not as effective as antihistamines or nasal steroids, and it doesn't work for everyone, Dr. Plaut notes. You'll need to start using it a few weeks before allergy season begins, and use it four times daily during the season.
Antihistamines (OTC and prescription) These combat sneezing, itchy nose and throat, runny nose, and watery eyes. Older prescription and OTC antihistamines (e.g., Actifed, Benadryl) can cause drowsiness, but newer, prescription-only ones (e.g., Claritin, Allegra) are less likely to do so. You may need to begin taking newer antihistamines a few days prior to the start of allergy season.
Decongestants (OTC and prescription) Decongestants (e.g., Sudafed) help relieve congestion. If you don't get relief with an antihistamine alone, adding a decongestant may do the trick, Dr. Plaut says. In fact, decongestants are often combined with an antihistamine in a single preparation. Don't use decongestant nose drops and sprays (e.g., Afrin) more than a few days in a row, however, since longer use can lead to "rebound" congestion.
Prescription Steroid Nasal Sprays These sprays (e.g., Rhinocort, Flonase) relieve most symptoms and are often very effective when combined with antihistamines. For best results, lean forward, insert the bottle into your nose, aim toward your ear, and squirt. The sprays work best when started a week or so before allergy season.
Immunotherapy or Allergy Shots This is the only treatment that can reduce allergy symptoms over time, Dr. Plaut says. Many people with pollen allergies see a significant reduction after 1 year of treatment and are able to stop treatment after about 3 years. And some research suggests that giving allergic kids allergy shots may even reduce their risk of developing asthma later, Dr. Plaut adds.