5 Ways to Cut the Cost of Allergy Relief

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By ANNE C. LEE

Looking for allergy relief? Prescriptions, rather than OTC remedies, are often more effective and cheaper in the long run.

1. Avoiding treatment can be costly

Nearly a third of adults have allergies. Suffer through the symptoms, and you could pay the price at work. During allergy attacks, one study found, employees lost more than two hours of productivity a day.

If you regularly take over-the-counter pills, get tested to pinpoint your allergens and fine-tune treatment.

The common skin-prick test is faster than a blood test and may save you a second office trip, says North Aurora, Ill., allergist Sakina Bajowala.

2. A prescription pays in more than one way

What your doctor prescribes may be more effective. For example, steroidal nasal sprays like Flonase beat OTC sprays, which shouldn't be used for more than a few days because they're habit forming, says Richard Madden, a physician in Belen, N.M.

Even when an OTC drug like Claritin or Zyrtec works fine for you, ask for a prescription anyway. That way, you can pay for the pills with the pretax dollars in your flexible spending account.

3. Shots pay off over time

Your doctor may suggest immunotherapy -- shots one or two times a week for up to eight months, tapering down to monthly over three to five years. A recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that immunotherapy patients saw 38% lower treatment costs owing to fewer overall doctor visits and drugs.

"You put in your work and expense upfront and get all the benefit down the road," says Bajowala.

4. An alternative treatment is on you

Acupuncture, biofeedback, hypnosis, and even eating local honey are touted as treatments, but there's little clinical data to prove widespread effectiveness over the long term. While your insurance may pay for a $100 acupuncture session for back pain, allergies are less likely to be covered.

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One homebrew that gets a thumbs-up from doctors: nasal irrigation. No need to spring for a $100 contraption -- a $20 drugstore variety with distilled water is fine for most.

5. For gear, there's no need to splurge

The best air purifier is your air conditioner, says Gaithersburg, Md., allergist Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet. Just add a HEPA filter to trap pollen, dust, and mold spores. With no AC, a basic $50 HEPA air purifier works fine, especially in small rooms.

When you're allergic to heavier allergens that settle quickly -- like dust mites and cat hair -- air purifiers may not help much, though. Get a HEPA filter for your vacuum and clean often.

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