Drugstores are filled with products that temporarily relieve allergy symptoms. You can pick from pills, nasal sprays, topical skin creams, and eyedrops.

Most work by blocking the action of histamine, the immune chemical at the root of allergic reactions. Some are effective for just a few hours, while others last up to 24.

So how to choose? I advise looking for a medication that targets your symptoms as directly as possible, which helps ensure you take only the amount and type of you need. For example, if itchy eyes are your only complaint, consider antihistamine drops—you might not require a head-to-toe pill that eases the full spectrum of symptoms.

On the other hand, if multiple allergy symptoms are keeping you awake at night, a short-acting, sedating antihistamine pill might be a smart idea.

One other tip: Talk to your doctor about ways to minimize your exposure to allergens. For example, if you're sensitive to pollen, it might help to wash your hands after petting the family dog—animals easily pick up spores when romping outdoors.

As director of the Office of Women's Health at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Dr. Lynn Shuster is at the leading edge of women-specific medicine.


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