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The best battle plan to survive allergy season in Austin

Picking from all of these allergy medicines to control symptoms can be confusing. An allergist shows CBS Austin what works best. (Photo:Bettie Cross)

Austin is often called the allergy capital of the world. One out of every four people can be sidelined by sneezing, wheezing and coughing. But it can be just as much of a headache to figure out the best way to battle those symptoms. So CBS Austin set out to find what works and what doesn't.

Carla Robertson knows how bad it can get in Austin. She used to dread leaving the house and gave up her almost daily walks.

"It was sad," said Robertson. "I couldn't go outside,"

She knew if she did, she'd be ambushed by her allergies.

"Everything you see out here I was allergic to. All the trees. All the grasses. Within about 20 minutes of being outside I would start to have uncontrollable sneezing and my eyes would start itching. I wanted to claw them out. And my mouth would itch," said Robertson. "I was just miserable."

So the mother of two put together an arsenal to battle her symptoms. She used a nasal spray to fight the sneezing, an antihistamine pill to dry up her runny nose and allergy eye drops for her itchy, watery eyes.

"I still had horrible symptoms even with all that," said Robertson.

So she started taking one more medicine every four hours.

"The only way I could get relief was to take Benadryl every four hours, all day every day," said Robertson. "So Benadryl on top of all that just to get through the days and be able to live my life."

For Robertson there's been a lot of trial and error. So we picked some of the most popular products and asked an Austin allergist what will keep us from using so much Kleenex.

Dr. Bill Howland at the Allergy and Asthma Center of Austin is both doctor and patient.

"I'm allergic to almost everything," said Dr. Howland. "But it doesn't matter what you're allergic to, whether it's a cat or oak pollen, the same reactions are occurring in the body which means the same medications can help any allergy."

Antihistamine pills attack sneezy, itchy and runny noses.

"The big three, Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec, are not equivalent," said Dr. Howland. "Zyrtec makes some people sleepy. So of the three I generally recommend the Allegra because it doesn't make people sleepy and it works a little bit better than Claritin for the average person."

Allergy sufferers often combine antihistamine pills with nasal sprays. They all take three to five days to kick-in, so pick based on the way they spray, drip or even smell.

"The nasal sprays seem to be pretty equivalent in their effectiveness," said Dr. Howland. "So what do you like? What do you prefer in terms of the way it feels when you use it? But there's not a lot of difference in how effective these sprays are."

Dr. Howland recommends Alaway or Zaditor eye drops for people who suffer from itchy, red, watery eyes. Both contain ketotifen which is a very effective medicine for itchy eyes. The over-the-counter eye drops are similar, but a price comparison shows Alaway costs less and gives consumers more product.

If over-the-counter products don't cut it, prescription Prednisone probably will.

"The nuclear option is to take steroids by mouth for a week or 10 days to try to calm things down," said Dr. Howland.

Because of side effects, Prednisone is a short-term fix. Long-term, allergy shots are for people who suffer most of the year and don't get relief from medications.

"Allergy shots are a way to make a person less allergic," said Dr. Howland.

"You'll know when your lift is just miserable. You'll know when you need to take shots," laughed Robertson, who is patient of Dr. Howland at the Allergy and Asthma Center of Austin.

Weekly shots are letting Robertson clear out her arsenal of allergy medicines.

"I don't take these anymore," said Robertson.

She no longer feels out-numbered by nature.

"There's thousands of cedar trees out here. I'm surrounded by them," said Robertson.

But there's no longer any fear of an imminent attack along the trail.

"My body no longer sees cedar pollen as the enemy. My body doesn't react against it anymore, so I don't have symptoms anymore," said Robertson. "I love that I can be outside now all year round."

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