Why your allergy medicine is not working

Living Well

Allergies are no one's idea of a good time — thank goodness for over-the-counter (OTC) solutions. However, if it seems like lately that your usual remedies aren't working, you're not alone. According to Allergies in America, a national survey, 37% of those surveyed said as allergy sufferers, they have to switch up their nasal allergy medicine at least once every few years because they're no longer effective.

We understand it's frustrating figuring out why your allergy medicine isn't working. To find a possible solution, let's take a look at why this might be happening to you.

Is it Possible To Build Up Resistance to Allergy Medication?

The short answer is probably not. It's relatively uncommon to develop a resistance to antihistamines or decongestants, medications used to relieve allergies. Over the counter steroidal nasal sprays like Flonase and Nasacort — typically used for runny noses and nasal congestion — helps to suppress your allergic responses and the body's production of histamines or other proteins, but you won't develop a resistance to them.

However, some OTC allergy medicine nasal decongestant sprays may make your symptoms worse the longer you use them. What happens is you may experience rebound congestion, which is a fancy way of saying that your nasal linings will swell if you use it for more than three or four days — this swelling has nothing to do with your original or seasonal allergies allergy itself, rather it's the nasal spray.

As for antihistamines, you probably won't build up resistance with this type of drug, but your usual allergy meds may not be working because you've developed a tolerance to them — it'll seem like the medication is losing effective over prolonged use.

All this to say: chances are, it's not your body's resistance to medication, it may be another underlying cause it's not ridding you of your allergic reaction.

Reasons Your Allergy Medicine is Not Working

There are myriad reasons why allergy medicine becomes less effective over time. Below are a few reasons why — but it's best to consult a doctor if these issues or the allergy triggers persist!

You Moved

While moving down the street isn't exactly a cause for concern, it can be for your allergies. Depending on the change in environment — think living in a relative sparse suburb to an urban neighborhood with lots of construction — your allergies may get worse, making it seem like your usual round of allergy medicine is not working.

Another reason could even be that you're used to living in a small apartment and now that you have a yard with beautiful foliage, the proximity to nature means your allergy flares up more often, requiring you to reassess your medication. And don't forget internal allergens - dust, mold and other substances that weren't present in your last abode may be triggering your allergies in your new place.

You're Outside a Lot More

Seasonal changes are a common culprit for allergy flare ups, even more so than usual during the summer months. Warmer temperatures and air pollution which typically happens during the spring and summer could mean you need to either take more allergy medication or find another solution for allergy relief.

Let's not forget all the outdoor activities you're probably partaking in once the weather is warmer. Long hikes in the forest or mountains are wonderful, but maybe not for your nasal passages. Or you're looking forward to swimming in your neighbor's pool, but prolonged exposure to chlorine could result in skin reactions. .

Warmer weather also means an increase in the pollen counts, which can be exacerbated by pollution and humidity. Of course, this depends on where you live, but if you find your allergy medicine is not as effective as it once was before, environmental factors may be playing an important role.

You Keep Forgetting to Take Your Medicine

Not taking your allergy medication consistently is one of the most common reasons why it's not working. Whether you forgot to take them or stopped taking them when your allergy symptoms have subsided, inconsistent dosage does more harm than good. The point is that you need to take it daily so the medicine is in your system. That way, your immune defences will not immediately react to allergens that are present.

One of the ways to help you remember to take your allergy medication is to pair it with another routine activity you do, such as brushing your teeth. You can even set an alarm or a reminder on your phone as another way to ensure you don't forget.

You're Not Taking The Medicine Properly

While most allergy medicine is fairly foolproof — taking the correct amount of pills seems easy enough — even a small mistake can render your allergy medication ineffective. For example, inhalers that aren't activated or used properly can mean the difference between being able to breathe easily or dealing with a stuffy nose. Same for nasal sprays, especially when sprayed at an incorrect angle.

You're Stressed

Yup, stress can send your allergic response through the roof by increasing your sensitivity to allergens (so does age, by the way). It's even worse if each year you're exposed to the same allergens. What this means is that the medication (or dosage) you've been taking when you were not as stressed or younger is no longer effective.

You've Developed New Allergies

Your current allergies are technically under control, but your allergy symptoms aren't. What this usually means is that you're acquired a new allergy — this can be common as you get older. In other words, your current allergy medicine isn't effective (or working at all) because it isn't taking them into consideration.

You Got a Wrong Diagnosis

If you're a relatively new allergy sufferer, going to a doctor is a great way to figure out what's ailing you and getting an effective solution. That is, assuming you've gotten a correct diagnosis.

We're not suggesting you switch to another doctor — sometimes symptoms and causes can overlap, it may not be easy to figure out what's what.

Of course, you could be someone who hates going to the doctor and decides to self diagnose your sinus headaches or allergies — you may not always get it spot on. Maybe you've mistaken a sinus infection for an allergy or you have a tension headache and it has nothing to do with allergy season.

Unfortunately, if you get a wrong diagnosis, your current treatment is wrong. It's crucial you consult a doctor as many times as you need to get to the root of what is causing your ailment.

You're Taking Other Medication

Sometimes it's not even your fault. Rather, it's your other medication. If you're treating another condition with medication, that could be the culprit. For example, some medicine can worsen sinus conditions, therefore making allergy medication ineffective. Or others could mean you get dry eye, leaving your eyes more watery than before.

Perhaps you are not diagnosed with a medical condition and it has limited your options for treatment. Your doctor might need to ask to swap out an allergy medication that worked to a new one that isn't as great. Even worse, the new one you have gives you certain side effects which makes your allergy symptoms flare up even more.

Whatever, the case, managing your allergy symptoms effectively requires constant trial and error — it may not be as simple as taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Maybe you need to take medication and make some lifestyle changes such as altering your diet or cleaning your home more often.

That's where a doctor you trust can be helpful: this person can help you look at your specific needs and then prescribe a treatment that's geared towards your individual needs. Relief may not happen overnight, but taking that first step to meet with your doctor to begin a treatment plan could pay off in the long run.

The fix: Treatment isn't a one-size-fits-all case. Doctors have to look at each individual's case and focus treatment accordingly, and finding the right treatment may take some tinkering.

Allergy patients often have to use a multi-pronged approach for treating their allergies. It is not always easy and doesn't often happen overnight, but relief can be found.

"People have to get proper care by a specialist [and] have good communication and proper compliance," Zitt says. "It should be a team effort between the physician and patient, with honesty and a willingness to work together. All of these will increase the likelihood for success."

Thanks for visiting the FSA Learning Center! We'll keep you posted on all the FSA changes that may be coming in the foreseeable future, so be sure to to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates.


Sarah Li-Cain

Sarah Li-Cain is a finance writer and a AFC (Accredited Financial Counselor) candidate whose work has appeared in places like Bankrate, Business Insider, Redbook, Financial Planning Association, Investopedia and International Business Times. She's also the host of Beyond The Dollar, a show where her and her guests have deep and honest conversations about how money affects their well-being. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, she can be found spending time at the beach with her family when she's not working.

Get the most out of your FSA with our exclusive deals and tips. Subscribe today!