Living With Allergies

How to Know When It’s Time to Try a Stronger Allergy Treatment

Photo of a person riding a tractor across a green field.
Photo by Copson Londan via Death to Stock

When you first realized you had allergies, you probably took a trip to the pharmacy and came back with one or two (or several) over-the-counter medications to manage your symptoms. Over time, you might notice those pharmacy trips getting more and more frequent and think, “What the heck? Are these medications becoming less effective?”

That’s usually a sign that you might need to upgrade to a stronger allergy treatment. We know you probably have some questions about how to know when to switch (and what to switch to), so we turned to Picnic Medical Director and allergy expert Dr. Amina Abdeldaim for answers.

What are the key signs that it's time to switch to a stronger treatment?

When it comes to medication, the cornerstone of allergy treatment is oral antihistamines. If your symptoms are still getting in the way of your life despite treatment (assuming you’re taking your treatment as directed), a prescription antihistamine should be the next option you consider.

Are there any over-the-counter medications allergy sufferers should avoid?

Yes, it’s important to avoid oxymetazoline (also called Afrin®) because overusing nasal decongestants can actually increase congestion—that effect is called rhinitis medicamentosa.

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If I’m already using a prescription treatment that’s not working out, what should I try next?

If you’re already using a prescription antihistamine that isn’t doing enough on its own, your next step might be adding a steroid nasal spray, especially if congestion is a major issue for you. This combination works to block multiple pathways in your body that lead to allergy symptoms.

Started with something other than a prescription antihistamine? Then you already know what to try next.

Are there any allergy treatments that I shouldn't combine?

No. As long as you’re not overusing decongestants like I mentioned earlier, most allergy treatments work well together.

What do I do if I’ve tried every allergy medication out there and still can’t find relief?

Even if you’ve already tried every type of allergy medication, you still have options. Immunotherapy, also called allergy shots, can help you teach your body to stop reacting to the things you’re allergic to.

ARTICLE REVIEWED BYAmina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPHPicnic Medical Director
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