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Do OTC Allergy Remedies Really Help?

Medical experts say we're in the middle of one of the worst allergy seasons in years.

Sufferers in towns such a Altoona, Pa., Bismarck, N.D. and Boise, Idaho, are feeling it especially hard, because the pollen counts in those towns is sky-high.

On The Saturday Early Show, Dr. Mallika Marshall looks at some over-the-counter and other remedies for red eyes, sneezing and runny noses.

  • HOW DO YOU KNOW WHETHER YOU HAVE ALLERGIES AS OPPOSED TO JUST A COMMON SPRING COLD?

    Sometimes it can be hard to tell, because both can cause cough and nasal symptoms. But if you primarily have itchy, watery eyes, an itchy, runny nose and sneezing, you're probably suffering from allergies.

  • IS IT POSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE TO SUDDENLY DEVELOP ALLERGIES WHEN THEY'VE NEVER HAD THEM BEFORE?

    Absolutely. People are generally born with a genetic tendency to develop allergies or not, but you may not actually develop symptoms until well into adulthood.

  • YOU SAY, BEFORE RUNNING TO THE NEAREST DRUGSTORE, THERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU CAN DO TO MINIMIZE YOUR SYMPTOMS.

    Yes. Stay indoors as much as possible in the early morning and late afternoon, when pollen counts tend to be the highest. Keep your windows closed in your home and car. Take a shower in the evening so you don't bring those allergens to bed with you.

  • LET'S SAY YOU'VE TRIED ALL THAT AND YOU'RE STILL SUFFERING. WHAT CAN YOU DO?

    Well, if you have mild symptoms, only occasionally, then you can probably get by with over-the-counter medications found in your local drugstore. If you have any underlying medical conditions, you should check with your doctor before trying any of these. Parents should always talk to their pediatrician before giving any medications to their children. First up are antihistamines. They've been around for years and can be really helpful for itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose and sneezing. The older antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, found in Benadryl, can cause sleepiness and dry mouth.

    The newer generation of antihistamines is less sedating, but tends to be more expensive. Loratadine and Claritin are now sold over-the-counter (without a prescription).

  • WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU HAVE A STUFFY NOSE IN ADDITION TO THE OTHER SYMPTOMS?

    In that case, you may want to add a decongestant to the mix. You can get combinations of antihistamines and decongestants, such as Claritin-D. Or, you can buy decongestants alone, such as Sudafed or phenelephrine.

  • WHAT ABOUT NASAL SPRAYS. DO THEY WORK?

    I caution you that decongestant nasal sprays can cause rebound congestion after three days of use, so you're probably better off using an oral preparation.

  • WHEN DO YOU NEED TO SEE AN ALLERGIST?

    Basically, if these things aren't working, or you're having daily symptoms or severe symptoms, it's time for you to see your physician, because some of the most effective allergy treatments are by prescription only; most important, nasal steroid sprays that are incredibly effective at reducing both nasal and eye allergy symptoms.

  • ARE THERE ANY NON-PHARMACOLOGIC TREATMENTS THAT WORK?

    Research is being done on herbal remedies for allergies, but you really should talk to your allergist before trying any of them. There have been suggestions that acupuncture can help relieve allergy symptoms, so that's something else you might pursue.

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