If your allergy symptoms have been defying your allergy medication, don’t despair. You might be able to find more effective medicine without getting a prescription. You just have to shop around.
“It’s perfectly fine to try different allergy medications,” says Millie Kwan, MD, PhD, an allergist with the UNC Allergy and Immunology Clinic. “Try one allergy medication for a period of time, and if it isn’t working, try a different one.”
How can you find the best method of defense for you?
We break down your options for over-the-counter allergy relief.
When you have seasonal allergies, your body sees pollen and other allergens as a threat, similar to an infection. Your immune system releases a chemical compound, called histamine, to fight it off. It’s the histamine—not the tree pollen or mold spores—that causes the symptoms that make you miserable, such as sneezing and itchy eyes.
When you have seasonal allergies, your body sees pollen and other allergens as a threat, similar to an infection.
Antihistamines block the histamine receptors that tell your body to respond aggressively to the allergen. “Not every antihistamine is going to work as well for every person,” Dr. Kwan says. “Everyone has to find their own best antihistamine.”
The most common types of oral, nonprescription antihistamines are Claritin, Allegra and Zyrtec. These are part of the newer generation of antihistamines. You take them less often, and they don’t make you drowsy like older-generation antihistamines, such as Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton.
Nasal Steroid Sprays
Nasal steroid sprays help stop an allergic reaction before it starts. The steroid blocks immune reactions in the nose, eyes, ears and throat. As a result, the body does not release histamine, and an allergic reaction is prevented.
“It’s perfectly fine to try different allergy medications. Try one allergy medication for a period of time, and if it isn’t working, try a different one.”
You may want to try using a steroid nasal spray and an antihistamine together. When the steroid can’t completely prevent an allergic reaction, the antihistamine will block histamine receptors from reacting and causing those pesky allergy symptoms.
Common over-the-counter nasal steroid sprays include Flonase, Nasacort and Rhinocort.
Antihistamine Eye Drops
If you’re suffering from itchy, watery eyes due to seasonal allergies, antihistamine eye drops can bring relief. Look for the active ingredient ketotifen, which blocks histamine receptors and prevents allergic reactions. Beware of eye drops that do not contain ketotifen; these simply reduce redness in the eyes and will not prevent or soothe an allergic reaction.
Common antihistamine eye drops include Alaway and Zaditor.
Eye Wash Kits
Eye wash kits can help people who spend a lot of time outdoors during allergy season. They allow users to rinse pollen and other allergens out of their eyes and prepare the eye tissue to receive antihistamine eye drops.
Some patients prefer natural tears or eye lubricant over eye wash kits, but they serve the same purpose.
Nasal saline rinses, such as neti pots and rinse bottles, can be useful for treating runny noses.
Although neti pots have gained popularity in recent years, some allergists recommend nasal rinse bottles because they can be easier to use.
To use a neti pot effectively, you must tilt your head to the side and allow the solution to go up your nose and come out the other nostril without getting into your ears. You’ll also want to use distilled or sterile water, or boiled and cooled tap water, to avoid potentially serious infections.
Rinse bottles don’t require any head-tilting. The saline goes up one nostril and comes out the other.
Your Plan of Action for Allergy Relief
Now that you’ve got the information, it’s time to come up with a plan. Many people start with an over-the-counter nasal steroid spray, like Flonase. If you still have symptoms, add an oral antihistamine. This one-two punch often works well to knock out allergy symptoms.
If you still have symptoms, you can add eye drops and rinse your sinuses or eyes. If symptoms persist despite your medications, consider making an appointment with an allergist.
If you need an allergist, find one near you.
Millie Kwan, MD, PhD, is an allergist and assistant professor in the UNC Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology and a faculty member at the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center.