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Dear Doc: Most people look forward to spring and summer. Flowers blooming, trees popping, all that stuff. But for me, it’s sneezy time. I feel like the Disney character Sneezy turning into Grumpy. What’s the best help for an itchy, stuffy girl like me? — M.A. from Spokane

Dear M.A.: Yes, allergy season is upon us — in full force. We have lots of trees around our 2-acre plot outside of Madison. I planted them so now I suffer the consequences. I, too, suffer from the seasonal stuff. Love the long, warmer days but hate the side effects.

When I was a child, we only had Benadryl and Chlor Trimeton, two antihistamines that put me down for the count. They were just awful. They worked for the allergies, but I wasn’t awake to enjoy the good life.

But today, thanks to medical advances, there is a lot you can do for allergies — most of it without going to a doctor’s office — making self-treatment cheaper and easier than ever.

Let’s start with nasal sprays. Stay away from Afrin and generic equivalents, the types of sprays that work instantly. You can become addicted to these if you use them for more than three days. That’s what the label says and I agree.

But the steroid nasal sprays, Flonase and comparable generics, are a godsend. Start with up to two squirts in each nostril twice a day. It takes a day or two to kick in, but once it does then see if you can adjust it down to one spray once or twice a day. Experiment to find the minimal spray that stops that nasal congestion.

I consider these sprays to be the mainstay of good allergy control. In the long run, this works much better than antihistamines.

Now, how about those antihistamines? Let’s start with the tablets. Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec and all generic forms of these can do the trick. Each one is a bit different, so if one does not work then try another.

And here’s another tip: If one tablet doesn’t work then take two, three or four tablets. The more tablets you take, the stronger the medication. The problem is they might make you sleepy, with Zyrtec and similar generics being the most likely to do so.

What’s good about any of these mainstays, the steroid sprays and the antihistamines, is that you can combine them. I use a spray every day to keep things under control but when I’m mowing the lawn or it’s a super pollen day then I add the antihistamine.

Next, let’s look at eye drops for itching. Nafcon A and Zaditor, over-the-counter meds, are good ones to start. Go to the pharmacy and ask the pharmacist which eye drops he or she would recommend. If your eyes continue to itch, then you might need one of the stronger prescription ones.

What if all of this fails? What if you’re swallowing the pills, spraying the spray and dropping liquid in your eyes and you’re still suffering? That’s when you should go to your family doctor, as they and their allergist colleagues have more tricks in their bag.

My spin: Most of the time you can fix the allergy problem by buying off-the-shelf stuff. If not, then it’s time to see your family doctor or an allergist. They have a few more options than you can find on the drug store shelf. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

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