Asked and Answered: How can I use my FSA to handle ongoing allergies?
If you struggle with seasonal allergies -- yes, even in the heart of summer -- you know how difficult they can be. Itchy eyes and sneezing are tough to bear, especially when the pollen count is high. If over-the-counter drugs aren't enough, it may be time for a more proactive approach.
It may not always be cheap, but your flexible spending account (FSA) could make allergy treatment easier to pay for. Here's some things you might want to know.
What causes seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies are rough. Before tackling them head-on, it may help to understand why they actually happen. Allergies occur when your immune system flags a substance — like pollen or mold — as "dangerous" to your body. For protection, your body reacts with inflammation. This may include your digestive system, skin, or sinuses. You can tell from the onslaught of sneezing, congestion, coughing or other symptoms.
Visit an allergist to prevent seasonal allergies
The problem with seasonal allergies is once they begin, they can be difficult to control. Over-the-counter remedies may not be enough. They may leave you with less money, without a lot of progress to show for it.
If your seasonal allergies are severe, you may want to see a doctor before your symptoms begin. They may suggest skin tests or blood work to identify your main triggers. From there, they may offer a customized treatment plan.
Start with the right over-the-counter drugs
Over-the-counter allergy drugs usually aren't cheap. Luckily, with a doctor's prescription, you can use your FSA or health savings account (HSA) to pay for them. Here are a few options to consider:
- Cromolyn sodium nasal spray - This drug may prevent allergies, but only if you use it before the symptoms begin.
- Decongestants - These may come in either pill or nasal spray form. Oral decongestants may offer temporary relief from a stuffy nose. But they shouldn't be used every day — or your symptoms may get worse. Here's what to look for in the drugstore:
- Oral decongestants - pseudoephedrine - brand names like Sudafed or Afrinol
- Nasal sprays - oxymetazoline (Afrin) or phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine)
- Oral antihistamines - These drugs may relieve allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchy skin, watery eyes, or a runny nose. Some of the most popular options include:
- Loratadine - brand names Claritin or Alavert
- Cetirizine - brand name Zyrtec Allergy
- Fexofenadine - brand name Allegra Allergy
- Combination decongestant and antihistamine - You may also see some drugs with a "combination approach" to allergies. These include both a decongestant and antihistamine. A couple of the best known options include:
- Loratadine-pseudoephedrine - Claritin-D
- Fexofenadine-pseudoephedrine - Allegra-D
Consider allergy shots
If over-the-counter remedies aren't enough, your doctor may suggest allergy shots. Once you know what causes trouble, your doctor can start allergen immunotherapy. This involves getting regular shots or tablets.
The treatment includes exposure to small amounts of the problem substance. Over time, your immune system may be more comfortable with the substance and skip flares from future contact.
Be proactive with seasonal allergies
Seasonal allergies make it hard to enjoy the warmer months. Rather than reacting when symptoms flare, consider a more proactive approach. By getting ahead of your seasonal allergies, your day-to-day activities, including time outdoors, will be a lot more comfortable.
From FSA basics to the most specific account details, in our Asked and Answered column, our team gets to the bottom of your most-pressing flex spending questions. It appears on Wednesdays, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.