Applying cold compresses on your eyes can work wonders at alleviating red, itching eyes that make allergy season seem unbearable. Many experts recommend using eyedrops that have been chilled in the refrigerator for added relief. If your eyes are irritated, don't wear contact lenses; they can trap pollen against your eye. (Check with an eye-care professional first before using eyedrops while wearing lenses.) Tear substitutes used several times a day may help wash away and dilute allergens.
Drugs are trusty allies. Nasal decongestants work in minutes to shrink dilated blood vessels in the nose and, therefore, improve swollen nasal tissues. Oral decongestants also reduce nasal congestion, though they take a bit longer to be effective. Antihistamines, by virtue of countering histamine, combat a runny nose and itchy eyes, but do little to battle nasal congestion.
Whichever medication you choose, be aware that most over-the-counter medicines have a downside too. Decongestant nasal sprays can only be used for a few days before they also produce a rebound effect, clogging up your nose all over again. Oral versions can cause insomnia and nervousness, and may not be safe for anyone suffering from an abnormal heart rhythm, high blood pressure, and heart or thyroid disease.
Nonprescription antihistamines can cause drowsiness and impair thought processing and alertness during the day -- even when taken at night.
"People frequently don't sense that their driving performance is impaired from these medications," says Dr. Mark Dykewicz, associate professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at St. Louis University. Studies show that even if you don't feel sleepy from these drugs, driving and thinking are often negatively affected.
Newer prescription antihistamines, such as Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra, provide relief from common allergy symptoms, but may make you less sleepy if you take the standard dose.
If you have chronic symptoms during the entire allergy season, regularly taking an antihistamine may be more effective than taking a pill every so often. Because oral antihistamines do little to relieve nasal congestion, your doctor may suggest using a nonsedating antihistamine-decongestant combination or combining an antihistamine with a steroid nasal spray.
Continued on page 5: Nasal Intelligence