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Relief From Springtime Allergies

By Consumer Reports

Last reviewed: March 2010

Man blowing  his nose
Spring misery
Most people who saw a doctor for their allergy symptoms said the visit helped a lot, our survey found.

Allergies are hard to treat—60 percent of the springtime allergy sufferers we surveyed had limited success managing their itchy eyes, sinus pain, sneezing, and other symptoms. But if you are miserable every time the trees bloom, don’t give up. Our nationally representative online survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, polled 1,814 adults in April 2009 during the spring allergy season. Here’s what allergy sufferers said might help:

Avoidance

It’s not easy to steer clear of pollen and other allergens. Only one in five respondents said they were “highly satisfied” with the avoidance measures they tried, such as staying indoors with the windows shut and the air-conditioner on, having someone else mow the lawn, or doing outdoor activities on low-pollen days. But when these tactics worked, they were even more effective than taking over-the-counter medicine for allergies.

Staying indoors and taking other avoidance measures may be most important between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when allergen levels are typically highest. If you try this approach, set your air conditioner to recirculate the air so you reduce the amount of pollen and other outdoor allergens from flowing into your home.

Check the pollen count in your area before going out. When you return home, take a shower to wash the pollen off your skin, and wash your clothes.

Prescription medicine

Only about one in four said they were highly satisfied with prescription allergy drugs. But most who were felt they had successfully managed their symptoms. Common medications included fexofenadine (Allegra and generic), a “second-generation” antihistamine that’s less likely to cause drowsiness than older antihistamines; fluticasone (Flonase and generic) and mometasone (Nasonex), corticosteroid nasal sprays; and montelukast (Singulair), which blocks molecules that can cause inflammation and allergies.

Overall, 8 percent of respondents received allergy shots, which can provide relief by gradually increasing the tolerance to specific allergens.

Over-the-counter medicine

More than two-thirds of our respondents relied on nonprescription drugs, including: diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy and generic), an older antihistamine that can cause drowsiness; loratadine (Claritin and generic) or cetirizine (Zyrtec and generic), second-generation antihistamines; and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed and generic), a nasal decongestant. Overall, nonprescription drugs were less likely to help manage symptoms than either avoidance or prescription medications, but they were better than doing nothing at all.

What you can do

Consider discussing your symptoms with a doctor. Most people who saw a doctor said the visit helped a lot, and 59 percent of those people said they had managed to rein in their symptoms.

Part of that benefit may be that the people who saw a doctor were more likely to take prescription drugs. And those medications, notably the steroid nasal sprays, often do work well, research suggests. Seeing a doctor also helped respondents pinpoint the OTC drugs and allergy-avoidance strategies that worked best for them. That may be because choosing from all the options can be confusing, and some are clearly better than others.

Finally, explore our allergy trouble tracker, which allows you to compare your symptoms to those of our survey respondents to help you find a remedy that may work for you.

Chart  discussing good medical advice

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