Allergy Attack

Allergies are life's medical traffic jam. Whether you're in the middle of major congestion or a 14-symptom pileup, this time of year is as annoying and painful as it is disruptive and frustrating.

What's worse, no matter what's causing your coughing/sneezing/head-exploding chaos, you can feel lost when it comes to knowing how to eliminate all the stuff, gunk, and goop that's darting through your head. So if you feel stranded on the painful road of allergic symptoms, use this primer to get to the closest exit.

Your Allergy Situation: You have a runny nose and you-ou-ou-ou-ou sneeze! all the time.

Like Cameron Diaz movies, all prescription antihistamines are not made alike. Although they all work by stopping histamines (the things your body releases when you're allergic) from getting to their receptors, Zyrtec (cetrizine) has been shown to be more effective than other prescriptions. With over-the-counter (OTC) medication, the antihistamine diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl) is most effective for quelling an allergy attack.

"It works within a couple of minutes; [other antihistamines] work within a couple of hours," says Dr. Beth Eve Corn, chief of Mount Sinai School of Medicine's allergy clinic. The trade-off for fast action is that Benedryl hits you like a Mack truck -- and puts you to sleep fast. You can take loratadine (found in Claritin) to avoid the drowsy effects.

Tip: If you know you're going to be exposed to allergens (being outside or around a neighbor's pet, for example), take some loratadine several hours before you go. It's also been shown to have a preventive effect.

Your Allergy Situation: Your eyes are as red as the Oscar night carpet.

This time of year, you don't have to travel from LA to NYC to know the meaning of red-eye. While OTC antihistamines can help relieve redness, you're better off with prescription antihistamine drops because they're more effective than the OTC ones and last twice as long -- half a day compared with a few hours. (A 24-hour formula is awaiting FDA approval.) By blocking allergy-causing histamines from their receptors, antihistamines like olopatadine and levocabastine eliminate your au naturel red eyeliner and immediately calm swollen blood vessels in the eye.

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Related links:

What Your Doc Needs To Know

101 Things To Do For Yourself

Rebuild Your Body

The Secret Life of Germs "I rarely use it on a regular basis," says Dr. Timothy Craig, an allergy expert at Pennsylvania State University. "I use it on a rescue basis."

Tip: If you wear contacts, take them out and wait five minutes after using any antihistamine drop before popping them in. The lenses can absorb the drop, preventing the medicine from working properly, says Dr. Robert Cykiert, a professor of ophthalmology at New York University.

Your Allergy Situation: Your nose feels clogged and drier than an Arizona desert.

For severe nasal-allergy symptoms, nasal steroids are the first-choice drugs. Imitating the cortisone and hydrocortisone made by your adrenaline gland, they help suppress nasal inflammation by decreasing the production of inflammation-causing cells, says Dr. David Bernstein, professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

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