More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies. Two-thirds of people blame their allergies on spring triggers such as ragweed, pollen and hay fever, but their allergic reactions may be caused by irritants that appear year-round. Allergens such as pet dander, mold, dust mites and nuts are common triggers that can exacerbate many people's reactions.
Once an allergen comes into contact with the body, it sets off a chain of events: The immune system goes into overdrive, producing an abundance of histamine, a substance that attaches to receptors in blood vessels, causing them to expand. The enlarged vessels create the redness, swelling, itching and increased secretions that cause discomfort and irritation for many.
"You have to do a little detective work," plastic surgeon Dr. Drew Ordon says. "Pay attention to your symptoms, when and where [they occur]. So many people are wasting more money on over-the-counter drugs for less relief. They need to find out their triggers."
Once allergy triggers are identified, try to avoid the allergen. If you can't avoid it, taking antihistamine medication can significantly reduce symptoms.
Allergy medications should be taken at specific times to be most effective. For example, hay fever symptoms are often at their worst in the morning, so it's best to take medicine at night. This will allow the medicine to circulate in the bloodstream and be potent when you need it most, when you wake up. Avoid using decongestants, because they do not treat the allergies.
If you suffer from allergies, see an allergist or immunologist. He or she can determine what you are allergic to and the most effective treatments.