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Do you have the sniffles? Head feeling a little achy? Eyes all itchy and runny? It’s like a cold, but doesn’t seem to go away… Yep, it’s allergies. If you’ve got them, you’re in good company: the CDC estimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from some kind of allergy, including yours truly. There are plenty of products on the market promising to treat our various symptoms, but not all of them work. Here’s an overview of the options that are worth trying out and the stuff you can walk right past.

What to Skip

Anything Labeled “Homeopathic”

You may have never heard the word “homeopathic” before, but you’ve definitely seen the goods before. If you take a close look at the over-the-counter medicine aisle at your local drug store or supermarket, you’ll notice that a certain selection of the merchandise bears the homeopathic label somewhere on its packaging. Homeopathy is the idea that a disease can be cured by any substance that creates similar symptoms, which should already be setting off your bullshit alarm. A full takedown is kind of outside the scope of this article, but don’t take it from me; just ask the National Institutes of Health, who found “little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific health condition” and warn about its potential harm.

All-in-One Style Treatments

The minute you start feeling gross, a medicine that promises to treat multiple ailments can be very attractive. Shotgun approach products, like those pictured above, work by combining many different active ingredients in a single package, but the drawback is that there isn’t enough of any single chemical to help you adequately. Plus, you can end up taking unnecessary medication for symptoms you don’t have, and combination products can also include inactive ingredients you might not want to be consuming, like sugars and alcohol. You might get some relief from treatments like this, but it’s more effective (and cheaper) to take separate drugs that target your specific needs.

Phenylephrine Pills

One of the most common conditions that results from allergies is nasal congestion. There are a handful of different treatment options, but one you’ll want to steer clear of is the phenylephrine tablets you’ll find on offer from big names and store brands alike. This drug was created as a replacement for pseudoephedrine, which can legally only be purchased in limited quantities from the pharmacy counter, since it’s used to make meth. You can get as many phenylephrine pills as you want right off the shelf! The only problem is that they don’t actually work. Trials have not found phenylephrine to be effective, so just grab one of those cards for a pseudoephedrine-containing product, head to the pharmacy pick-up desk, and get some medicine that actually helps… at the legally-approved limit, of course.

These May or May Not Help


If you’re experiencing dryness in your nose or throat due to your allergies, a humidifier might make your breathing easier. Depending on how severe your symptoms are and how much cash you have to splash, you can get a small humidifier to accommodate a single room, or a larger, whole-house model. However, if your allergy is to pollen, a pet, or dust mites, moisture in the air will make your problem worse, so a humidifier definitely should not be used in those cases. If you live in a region with a damp climate, go for the opposite – a dehumidifier, which will suck water out of the air and collect it in a reservoir so you can reuse it in a way that doesn’t make you feel horrendous.

Nasal Sprays

If you’ve already popped some pseudoephedrine and it’s not cutting it, there are loads of choices for medicines you can mist directly into your nose. There are decongestant sprays, steroid sprays, and saline sprays. The decongestant type tends to be very effective, but you can only use them for a few days before your body starts developing a dependence (some people have even gotten hooked for years). Steroid nasal sprays aren’t addictive, but they’re pricey and carry the greatest risk of side effect. Saline sprays are cheap and non-addictive, but since they just contain salt water and not medicine, they won’t do much for more intense symptoms.

Stuff that Works

Sinus Rinsing

If you’ve ever seen someone doing that thing where they’re pouring water into one nostril and it comes streaming out the other… yeah, that’s what this is. Sinus rinsing uses a combination of salt and baking soda dissolved in warm water, which you, indeed, shoot right up your nose. It offers better results than a saline spray because the large volume of liquid water can break up dried mucus, while also alleviating discomfort by keeping your nasal passages warm and moist. I’m highly allergic to dust mites, and I’ve been sinus rinsing three times a day for years. It’s an indispensable part of my routine. If you’re dealing with nasal congestion and haven’t tried sinus rinsing yet, I can’t recommend it enough. It’ll change your life.

Antihistamine Products

Histamine is the chemical your body releases when it’s allergic to something (more info here for nerds). It causes some of the common symptoms, like sneezing and a runny nose. Antihistamines, obviously, work to negate the effects of histamine. The pills are notorious for causing drowsiness – I’ve heard some parents give them to their kids before airplane trips, although that might just be an urban myth. Fortunately, you can also get more antihistamines in more targeted form, like eye drops and nasal sprays (which you’ll need a prescription for).


If it’s headaches that the allergy fairy has decided to curse you with, your regular old painkillers will do the job – no need to look for some marked-up version specifically advertised for allergies. They can also be helpful with general bodily soreness allergies sometimes cause. In the U.S., our main options are acetaminophen (also known as paracetamol), a straight-up painkiller, as well as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, all of which also have anti-inflammatory properties. Everyone reacts a little differently to these drugs, and you’ll probably find that some help you more than others.

While I can’t guarantee these are all the tools you’ll need to fight your allergies, you’re definitely on the right track. If your symptoms don’t improve or get worse, you should probably see a doctor and get your hands on that hardcore prescription stuff. Remember to take it easy and rest – stress and exhaustion will inevitably exacerbate any illness you’re facing. Feel better!

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