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Why Allergy Medications Stop Working

written by: Victoria Trix • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 3/18/2009

Are you wondering why last years allergy medication isn't working this year? This article will answer that question and offer tips to finding new ways of managing your allergies when the old medications stop working.

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    Why Isn't My Allergy Medication Working?

    As spring slowly approaches, those of us who suffer from seasonal allergies are preparing for the onslaught of symptoms which include sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, and congestion. Unfortunately, most of us also find that the allergy medicine we used last season just isn’t working anymore. The cause of this dilemma is a bit insidious, in that our own immune system, which is designed to protect us from illness, is actually the cause of the allergic reaction, as well as the reason the medicines stop working.

    In the spring, when we find that our allergy medication is no longer working, the most common allergy trigger is pollen, which is released into the air by trees, grasses, and weeds. If you are allergic to pollen, your immune system goes into hyperactive mode as it mistakenly regards the pollen as an illness causing organism and then releases antibodies to attack it like it would a bacteria. When your body’s antibodies attack the allergens, it causes a chemical reaction which releases histamines into the blood. The histamines are what results in runny nose, itchy eyes, and other symptoms of allergies. Allergy medications are designed to block the histamine that is released. Unfortunately, since our immune systems are adaptive, we quickly build immunity to the medications, and therefore the medicines stop working.

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    What to Do When Your Allergy Medication Stops Working

    Most allergy sufferers will find that once they determine a set of medications that initially resolve their symptoms, they can seasonally rotate the medications as the previous meds stop working. Many will find that periodic use of over the counter allergy medications when prescription remedies stop working seem to dramatically decrease symptoms for the remainder of the current allergy season. Of course, be sure to notify your doctor when your allergy medication stops working and you have switched to an over the counter treatment.

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    Alternative Treatments When Allergy Medications Stop Working

    Allergy shots, also know as immunotherapy, is a treatment which works in direct opposition to allergy medications, but is the only treatment which provides long term relief to allergy sufferers who find that their allergy medications stop working over time. As opposed to allergy medications, which block the chemicals that cause allergy symptoms, allergy shots work with the immune system to build a natural tolerance to the allergen, thereby preventing the repetition of medication use that just stops working. In the same way that immunizations work, allergy shots involve injecting a small amount of the substance you are allergic to into the body, allowing the immune system to develop a tolerance for the allergen as the dosage of injection is gradually increased over time. In the same way that allergy medications stop working because your body develops immunity to the medication, over time your body also has the ability to develop immunity to the allergen.