Keep these guidelines in mind when looking for allergy relief:
Don't nod off
Nonprescription antihistamines and decongestants in pill form can help dry and open up your nose. But some of these medications will make you drowsy, so take them when you won't be driving or working with machinery. Second-generation antihistamines--Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and fexofenadine (Allegra)--are available over the counter and are less likely to cause as many side effects similar to the first-generation medication in this drug classification. Even though cetirizine is a second-generation antihistamine, be aware that it may still cause drowsiness in some people.
Follow the package instructions exactly. You may be taking an antihistamine with a decongestant (such as pseudoephedrine) that's too strong or a dosage that's too high if you experience agitation or insomnia. Switch to a different medication or reduce your dosage.
Prescription, yes or no?
In the past, people used to turn to prescription antihistamines because they tended to cause less drowsiness than nonprescription ones. But loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine are nonsedating antihistamines available without a prescription. For quick relief of symptoms, nonprescription antihistamines and decongestants can be very effective.
Watch the nasal sprays
Nonprescription decongestant nasal sprays or drops may make you feel better for a while, but they have a "rebound effect" that can increase your nasal congestion. They can also produce side effects such as nosebleeds, rapid heartbeat, and agitation, so use them for only a few days at a time, usually three days of continued use. It's safe to use them again after giving your nose a few days' rest. Nasal saline sprays, which are available over the counter, can help clear sinuses and are safe to use continuously. Nasal corticosteroid sprays are highly effective for treating nasal allergies, although they take a few days to kick in. Nasal antihistamine spray is also effective and available by prescription, although in some people it may cause sedation.
About allergy shots
If your allergy is severe and doesn't respond to oral medications, you may need to build up your resistance with regular allergy shots from an allergy specialist. This treatment works for many people with allergic rhinitis. Allergy shots cause the immune system to react by producing varieties of antibodies and cells that do not cause allergy symptoms.
Allergy shots are not used to treat food allergies, because the shots themselves are too likely to cause anaphylaxis. However, oral immunotherapy using extraordinarily diluted samples of allergy triggers is currently being tested as a possible new treatment for food allergy.
Allergy shots for bee sting allergy are highly effective and can be life saving. They should be considered for any person who has had a severe or systemic reaction to a bee sting.