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How to find the right treatment for seasonal allergies

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When it comes to seasonal allergies, there are multiple treatment options. Find one that works best for you.

Whether it’s warmer summer or cooler fall weather, pesky seasonal allergies often follow. Sneezing, itchy eyes and coughing hit children and adults alike.

Allergies occur when your immune system reacts (or overreacts) to a foreign substance, like pollen, a bee sting or even certain foods. When your body is exposed to something you’re allergic to, it reacts by trying to remove the allergen from your system. These reactions often cause allergy symptoms that can include:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchiness
  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Anaphylaxis (a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction)

For most people, seasonal allergies cause mild symptoms like sneezing and runny nose. But for some, symptoms can be life-threatening. In those cases, an EpiPen is often the best form of treatment.

Preventative measures can be discussed with your doctor to help with your symptoms. In general, however, allergy medications or treatments like shots or drops may also be needed to lessen the effects of allergens.

Using medications like antihistamines, decongestants, nasal sprays and eye drops — either together or separately — can help you reduce and manage your symptoms.

Antihistamines are over-the-counter medications that reduce your body’s allergic response. However, some can cause drowsiness, so be sure you know how the medication affects you before operating any heavy machinery, including driving a car.

Decongestants are another over-the-counter medication that work by breaking up mucus and congestion. I caution against using decongestants for more than three days at a time without talking to your doctor or pharmacist as there are often more effective treatments for seasonal allergies.

Steroid nasal sprays help you breathe easier by reducing inflammation in your nose. Most allergy nasal sprays are available over the counter and are usually used for one to two sprays per day, per nostril. Steroid nasal sprays are not the same as decongestant nasal sprays, as they can be used longer than decongestants. There are also antihistamine nasal sprays available, but you’ll need a prescription from your physician for these.

Certain eye drops can control the itchiness and watering that come with seasonal allergies. Some of these drops are available over the counter and others through a prescription from your doctor. For the best results, remember to take out contact lenses before using your eye drops.


Seasonal allergy treatment options

Beyond these medications that just treat the symptoms, you may also want to talk with your doctor about other treatment options such as allergy shots.

Allergies can be treated by exposing your body to a small and increasing amount of what you’re allergic to. This means that, as you continue receiving allergy treatments, the amount of allergens you’re exposed to increases each time. Your body gradually builds up tolerance against what you’re allergic to — and that lessens your symptoms.

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about your seasonal allergy symptoms and which treatments or medications might work best for you.

Neil Baman, MD, Allergy/Immunology at Geisinger State College, Scenery Park

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