Secret No. 1: Seasonal symptoms don't mean you have seasonal allergies
When you get that telltale itch in your nose come April or May, do you figure it's your tree pollen allergy acting up again? Here's a shocker: Pollen, or another spring trigger, might not be the problem. "It could be a mold allergy, which can run in summer and fall, or a year-round dust mite allergy," Dr. Cox points out. That means that making lifestyle changes, such as keeping your house drier and washing your bedding more often, might yield surprising relief.
You may not even have allergies at all, says Inderpal Randhawa, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine. "Sixty percent of people who respond well to taking antihistamines don't have allergies," he notes. "The antihistamine just dried out their nose, so they feel better." They may actually have a cold or asthma instead.
That's why it's always worth going in for testing if you suffer from regular allergy-like symptoms, even if you've been tested before. New allergies can develop throughout your life, and the testing technology has improved since the mid-1990s, leading to sharper diagnoses. Request ImmunoCAP blood testing and/or skin testing.
Secret No. 2: It's good to stop taking your meds
Finding an allergy medicine that performs well for you feels great. Sadly, "using the same drug over and over can result in it not working anymore," says Daniel Akin, MD, an otolaryngologist in Albany, Ind. With regular use, your body can develop a tolerance to an antihistamine after two to three months. And popping a decongestant pill (like those that include the active ingredient pseudoephedrine) for longer than 10 days can harm the lining of the sinuses and throat, causing mucus to thicken.
The antidote: Switch to a different drug for two weeks. "Your old favorite might be more effective when you start using it again," says Shilpi Agarwal, MD, an integrative medicine family physician in Los Angeles. If that doesn't work, take a total pill vacation for a couple of weeks. You don't have to go cold turkey, though. Rely instead on antihistamine eyedrops, such as Zyrtec Itchy Eye Drops or Zaditor, Dr. Agarwal says. Saline nasal sprays (available at drugstores) and prescription antihistamine nasal sprays can also help. For more severe cases, your doc can prescribe steroid nasal sprays, like Flonase or Nasonex.