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Health Answers

When should you see a specialist for your allergies?

Q. When should you see a specialist for your allergies?

A. Although the tree pollen count has been high for weeks now, “there’s absolutely no reason in 2013 why anyone should have a miserable allergy season,” said Dr. John Joseph Costa, medical director of clinical allergy practices for Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

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Today’s over-the-counter antihistamine medications are safe, relatively low-cost, long-acting, and won’t put you to sleep. Over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops also work extremely well, he said, but avoid over-the-counter nasal sprays, because they are very quickly habit-forming.

Roughly one-third to one-half of allergy sufferers will solve their problems with these medications.

If you’re still feeling lousy, then it’s time to see a specialist, he said.

A lot of people can find relief by adding a prescription steroid nasal spray — which is safe and non-addictive, but needs to be used regularly during allergy season or exposures.

Allergy testing can help people understand their triggers and be intelligent about what environmental changes to make, he said, such as pulling up carpets if you have a dust mite allergy.

Shots are appropriate for someone who can’t get relief despite these efforts, he said.

Costa described allergies and medications as fighting a tug of war. As long as there are allergens pulling you toward symptoms, you will need to pull equally hard on the other side to relieve them.

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