While your first instinct may be to run for the allergy aisle at the nearest pharmacy, Pritchyk says there are other options. “Avoidance of allergies is the first line of treatment. Close your windows, wash your face and clothing when you come indoors, wear a face mask when cutting grass and try an air purifier with a HEPA filter at home,” he says.
If that fails, he says it is time to try medication. Pritchyk recommends nasal steroids as the first line of therapy. Examples are Flonase (fluticasone propionate) and Nasonex (mometasone), which treat all the symptoms of allergies, especially congestion. If symptoms persist, he suggests adding an over-the-counter antihistamine like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Xyzal (levocetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine) or Claritin (loratadine).
Pritchyk says the amount of time you need to be on allergy medication is dependent on the type of allergies you have. “If your allergies are specific to a certain season, you should take the allergy medication until the season is over, typically about 12 weeks (about three months). However, if you have perennial allergies (chronic allergies due to pets or dust, for example) you should take the meds all year, or as long as you are exposed to the allergen,” says Pritchyk.
If your allergy symptoms persist despite all other efforts, it's time to make an appointment with an allergist. “An allergist will go over your medical history, medications and may recommend an allergy test to see what specific allergens are causing your symptoms. If medications are not controlling your symptoms or you cannot tolerate the medications, you may be a candidate for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) is the only way to potentially cure allergy symptoms,” he says.
Allergy shots are regular injections given over a period of time to stop or at least reduce allergy symptoms. Each shot contains a small amount of the substance that triggers allergy symptoms so that you build up a resistance to the substance.
If you don’t want allergy shots, Pritchyk says another form of immunotherapy is sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), which are drops that go under your tongue every day. He says the drops have a similar effect as shots but can be done at home.