Healthy Living made simple.

Look over the counter for allergy symptom relief

By Tim Vandehey


According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 40 million Americans have “indoor/outdoor allergies” triggered by irritants like pollen, dust mites or pet dander at home and in nature.


Your immune system’s reaction to allergens produces a litany of misery: stuffiness, itching, sneezing and mucus in the nose, and itching, tears and redness in the eyes. Allergies can be serious detriments to your quality of life, so rather than suffering through them, explore your options for relief.


No prescription required

Your pharmacist can recommend cost-effective medications to alleviate allergy symptoms, including:

  • Long-acting spray decongestants with ingredients such as oxymetazoline (Afrin®, Dristan®, Sinex®) and short-acting decongestants like phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine®) typically work within five minutes, relieving nasal congestion. Don’t use them for more than three to five days; they become less effective and can cause rebound congestion over time
  • Oral decongestants including pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®) and phenylephrine (Sudafed PE®) also relieve congestion but work more slowly than spray decongestants. They can increase blood pressure and cause nervousness or sleep problems. Federal law restricts the amount of pseudoephedrine that customers may buy, requires buyers to provide proof of identity and prohibits it from being on public display. Some states also require a prescription
  • Oral antihistamines include loratadine, cetirizine and fexofenadine (Claritin®, Zyrtec® and Allegra®). Effective for nasal and eye symptoms, these are taken once daily and are very safe

Minimizing the Misery

Minimize or avoid allergen exposure by keeping house and car windows closed and avoiding yard work during allergy season. Try to stay indoors early in the morning, when pollen levels are commonly highest.


Talk to your pharmacist about options. This is especially important if you have conditions such as asthma that can affect your response to allergy medications. Take medications according to instructions. Because medications can become less effective over time, take them regularly only during pollen season and stop when the season ends. If over-the-counter agents don’t work, ask about prescription drugs, including antihistamines or cortisone sprays.


Most important, don’t accept the suffering. Talk to specialists, ask questions and follow recommendations. Take back allergy season!


Tim Vandehey is the executive editor of Healthy Living Made Simple.
Thanks to Eli O. Meltzer, M.D., for his assistance.

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