MARJORIE SLANKARD, MD & PATIENT: "I think you've been very good about coming in and taking your shots on a regular basis."
ANNOUNCER: For some allergy sufferers, regular allergy shots are the answer for the nagging symptoms that intrude on their lives.
ELI MELTZER, MD: People who have allergies come to us because of symptoms-itching, sneezing, runny, stuffy-- that bothers them. But they more often come because their day-to-day activity is impacted. Things like ability to sleep, ability to work productively, ability to socialize, ability generally to feel good.
LINDA SUMAVIELLE & MARJORIE SLANKARD, MD: "I'd have a runny nose, I had headache, I had sinus problems, I'd have skin irritation, I had eczema and some rashes. I really didn't seek out an allergist until I felt so terrible I felt like I just couldn't cope anymore."
ANNOUNCER: Linda Sumavielle's allergies are severe. But millions of Americans have allergies that are less serious medically, but just as troublesome.
MARION RICHMAN, MD: I think most people fall in the mild to moderate category and that may be people who don't even know they have allergies, and it happens you know at specific times during the year.
ANNOUNCER: For those patients, there are a variety of treatment options available.
MARION RICHMAN, MD: We have steroids, which can be used, sprayed into the nose, which are very effective, we have the non-sedating antihistamines.
ANNOUNCER: The antihistamines prescribed by doctors are non-sedating or mildly sedating. But many consumers tend to buy their medications on their own.
GILLIAN SHEPHERD, MD: Most of the studies show that the overwhelming majority of allergy patients treat themselves-if at all-by the local pharmacies with over-the-counter medications.
ELI MELTZER, MD: Buying medication over-the-counter is a very complex task. When you go to the pharmacy, and you stand in front of the counter, you have to make a decision "What exactly are my problems?" Should I pick the blue box, the red box, the green box? Do I know exactly what dose to use? Do I know what the side effects are? How long should I take it? So it's making a decision very independently.
MARION RICHMAN, MD: For the people that are like, in the very mild to moderate department, then over-the-counter drugs might be enough.
GILLIAN SHEPHERD, MD: Sometimes just a plain decongestant, the over-the-counter one that available is Sudafed, may be enough for most people. There are also a lot of allergy eye drops over-the-counter like Vasocon-A, Naphocon-A, Albalon-A. As long as it's got an A after it, it has an antihistamine in it and that's very helpful for itchy eyes.
ANNOUNCER: Many consumers seek out the over-the-counter oral antihistamines like: Benadryl, Chlor-Trimeton, and Dimetapp.
MARION RICHMAN, MD: Over-the-counter antihistamines are effective, probably just as effective as the prescription ones, but they have that very serious side effect of making people sleepy.
ANNOUNCER: Some physicians caution their patients against using these sedating medications for their potential safety risks they pose. But recently, a non-sedating antihistamine, Claritin, has become available over-the-counter. Those whose allergies are severe should definitely see a doctors to get a prescribed treatment regimen.
GILLIAN SHEPHERD, MD: I think the patient should see a doctor any time they are having symptoms that are interfering with their regular existence. They're not doing the activities they feel they should be able to do, whether this is jogging and training for marathons or whether it's just walking around the block. If they are waking up at night with any allergy symptoms, particularly if they have any chest symptoms at all, that may be asthma, and that always requires that you see a doctor.
ELI MELTZER, MD: The person who ultimately decides whether a patient is better, is the patient. And usually now with good quality care and continuity with follow-up, patients can clearly be better, have less miserability, and less suffering.