Gimme Allergy Relief!

One medicine won't fix all allergy woes. You need to target and treat specific symptoms. Allergist David S. Mazza, M.D., of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital, guides you through what'll work for you.

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If You Have Itchy Eyes

Try over-the-counter preservative-free artificial tear drops, such as those made by Refresh Plus or Systane, which will help flush allergens out of your eyes. If these don't provide relief, see a doctor for prescription antihistamine drops, which block histamine buildup (the allergic response) in your peepers.

Avoid some over-the-counter allergy eyedrops containing vasoconstrictors (skip those with tetrahydrozoline HCL on the label), which narrow swollen blood vessels so they look less red… for a while. The minute the drops wear off, you're back in the red again, and you're possibly even worse off than when you started.

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If You Have a Stuffy or Runny Nose and Sneezing

Try a saline nasal wash, used two or three times a day to rinse away allergens. If that's not strong enough, try a steroid nasal spray like the new over-the-counter Nasacort. It decreases swelling in the nose to relieve congestion, and it also decreases the intensity of the response even when you are in contact with the allergens. If you need something more potent, ask your doctor about Dymista, a prescription nasal spray.

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Avoid decongestant nasal sprays that contain the ingredients oxymetazoline or phenylephrine. These can cause rebound congestion, meaning that after they wear off, your nasal linings swell up again… at which point you reach for more medicine and could repeat the cycle endlessly instead of actually solving the problem.

Which Antihistamine Is Right For You?

First of all, go for what experts call second-generation antihistamines: Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra (old-school meds like Benadryl are more sedating). These work by blocking histamines, the chemicals that make you feel lousy. The truth is, it may take trial and error for you to find your best fix. So if, say, Zyrtec makes you tired or isn't working, switch to Allegra, which is less sedating, says Mazza. If you don't find relief within a week or so of taking one kind, try another—you may react differently. If none of the over-the-counter options work for you, see your doctor. You could need a stronger prescription medication like Clarinex.

Move over, Allergy Shots 

There's a new cure in town for grass pollens and ragweed that comes in pill form called sublingual immunotherapy (ask your insurance carrier if it's covered). The Rx builds your tolerance slowly—over three to four years, says David Rosenstreich, M.D., director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology Department of Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center.

This story originally appeared in the August/September 2014 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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