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Longer allergy season: relief that works 6/11
(This article is based on the allergy coverage from ConsumerReportHealth.org.)

Experts are predicting another extended allergy season this year, with higher pollen counts and accelerated ragweed growth rates—one of the environmental health impacts of climate change.

If you are miserable whenever the trees and flowers bloom, there are a number of ways to get the safest and best relief. The first step is to check your symptoms and make sure you’re having an allergic reaction and not suffering from a cold or other infection. Itchy eyes, sinus pain, sneezing, and other symptoms can be cold symptoms. Consulting a doctor often can help with a correct diagnosis and is recommended.

Lifestyle changes

Once you’ve got a good diagnosis, consider making some lifestyle changes, such as staying indoors with the window shut and the air-conditioner on when the pollen count is high. Or you might try having someone else mow the lawn, or doing outdoor activities on low-pollen days. According to Consumer Reports health experts, these measures can be more effective than taking over-the-counter medicines.

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 re-circulate 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.

OTC medicines

If you still require medicines to relieve your symptoms, there’s some good news: all the newer antihistamines cause less sedation and drowsiness. The recommended remedies include generic loratadine (brand name Claritin), a recent Best Buy Drugs pick for allergy drugs.

But not all allergy drugs work equally well for all people. So if loratadine doesn’t work for you, it might be worth trying other options, including:

Allegra Allergy (fexofenadine) it’s less likely than some other antihistamines to cause drowsiness. But the same is true for loratadine, which costs much less than Allegra Allergy.

Cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy and generic), which is available as an over-the-counter generic, but might be more likely to cause sedation than loratadine or Allegra.

• Older antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy and generic) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton and generic), which not only can cause drowsiness but also dry eyes and mouth, and urinary retention, and should be avoided by people with narrow-angle glaucoma or an enlarged prostate.

Desloratadine (Clarinex), which is still only available as an expensive, brand-name prescription drug.

Natural remedies

Natural remedies, such as herbs and salt water baths for the nose, (saline nose irrigation) can offer some relief from allergies and hay fever symptoms, according to Consumer Reports medical experts, but they have some cautionary advice:

Studies of natural remedies are growing, but there is little government oversight of the potency, purity, and identity of dietary supplements compared with that of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. So you should exercise caution with any herbs or other dietary supplements, especially with young children, and avoid taking them if you are pregnant.

You should look for the USP verification mark on any dietary supplement you buy. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that what's on the label is really in the bottle. Remember that some "natural" remedies may contain dangerous ingredients and can harm people who have certain allergies or medical conditions or take certain medications. Be sure to consult a doctor or pharmacist before using any supplements or hay fever natural remedies.

Natural remedies that are "possibly effective"include: Butterbur, Phleum Pratense (Timothy grass), and Tinospora cordifolia (Indian tinospora, moonseed).

Many experts recommend first trying better-established strategies to treat hay-fever symptoms. Prescription or over-the-counter allergy medication may provide relief. For more information, see the Best Buy Drugs report on allergy treatments.

Related links

Watch video "Best antihistamine for your allergy"

Check the pollen count in your area. [American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology]

Allegra leaps from Rx to OTC—but should you? 4/12/11

Natural remedies for hay fever 5/09

A saltwater bath for the nose 5/09

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