Once you know you have seasonal allergies, one of the most important steps you can take to obtain relief is to avoid pollen as much as possible (see Preventing Allergies). Some recommendations include:
- Try to stay indoors when pollen levels are highest. In the fall, which is ragweed pollen season, pollen levels are highest in the morning. During the grass pollen season in the spring and summer, pollen levels are highest in the evening. Pollen counts measure how much pollen is in the air and are expressed in grains of pollen per square meter of air collected during a 24-hour period.
- It may also help to keep windows closed in your house and car, and to run the air conditioner. If possible, avoid mowing grass and doing other yard work.
Of course, there will be times when pollen cannot be escaped. At this point, the options for allergy relief include medications or allergy shots.
Medications used to relieve allergy symptoms may include:
- Nasal steroids
- Cromolyn sodium
- Combination medicines.
Some allergy medications are available over-the-counter, while others require a prescription.
As the name indicates, an antihistamine counters the effects of histamine. Histamine is a chemical that is released by the mast cells in your body's tissues and contributes to the symptoms of allergies. For many years, antihistamines have provided effective allergy relief of:
- Itching in the nose
- Itching of the eyes
Antihistamines are also effective in reducing nasal drainage. However, these medicines do not affect nasal congestion.
Many people who take antihistamines for allergies have some distressing side effects, such as drowsiness and loss of alertness and coordination. Be sure to avoid this type of drug when you have to drive, operate machinery, or engage in other activities that require you to be alert.
Benadryl® (diphenhydramine hydrochloride) and Chlor-Trimeton® (chlorpheniramine) are common brand-name oral antihistamines available without a prescription. These allergy medicines are known to cause drowsiness in about half the people who take them. For those people, Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton are best taken at night.
Antihistamines that cause fewer of these side effects are available over-the-counter or by prescription. These non-sedating antihistamines are as effective as other antihistamines in preventing histamine-induced symptoms, but most do so without causing sleepiness.
Non-prescription antihistamines that cause less sedation (drowsiness) include Zyrtec® (cetirizine) and Claritin® (loratadine). Cetirizine is known to cause drowsiness at a slightly higher rate than the other non-sedating antihistamines.
Prescription antihistamines used to reduce allergy symptoms and that cause less sedation are:
- Clarinex® (desloratadine)
- Xyzal® (levocetirizine)
- Allegra® (fexofenadine)
- Astelin® (azelastine)
- Astepro® (azelastine).
Antihistamines should not be used by anyone with breathing problems such as emphysema or bronchitis, COPD, glaucoma, or difficulty with urination unless directed by their doctor. Also, anyone taking sedatives or tranquilizers should not use antihistamines.