Allergy relief for cheap: 10 ways to save money on medicine and treatment if you have allergies

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Allergies affect at least 50 million people in the United States around one in five people — and evidence suggests that number might be on the rise. Spring is especially rough, with many seasonal allergy sufferers prone to reactions to tree pollen, and summer is painful, too, if weeds and grass are your enemies. Allergic to dust? You could be sniffling all year.

More seriously, some allergies can be life-threatening, like those related to medication including antibiotics, aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen or Aleve; foods like milk, eggs and peanuts; and insect stings from bees, hornets or fire ants. And if you suffer from allergies, you could be spending a lot of money to keep your allergic reactions in check.

Treatment costs can pass $100 over the cost of a couple weeks, ranging from cheaper options like $0.10 per pill for generic Claritin to $300 or more for a brand-name Epi-Pen. Overall, Americans spend billions of dollars on allergy-related doctor visits, medication and more.

Luckily, there are ways to keep costs down — from using coupons and buying generic, to using neti pots, to buying the right house plants. Here are 10 smart tips to help you save money while successfully battling your allergies.

1. Figure out what you're actually allergic to

Don't just waste money guessing. "Many people think they have allergies and do not," Dr. Beth Miller, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology and director of the U.K. Asthma, Allergy, and Sinus Clinic told Mic. "This is the case especially when it comes to food allergies. Up to 25% of adults think they have food allergies, when studies show the incidence is between 0.03-0.06%."

Dr. Miller advises an initial visit to an allergist, which could "save you money in the long run," as you identify what you are and aren't allergic to. This can also help you take steps to avoid specific triggers and correctly treat symptoms, like a tingly mouth caused by food allergies, hives caused by bee stings, or a runny nose caused by a reaction to pollen.

2. Practice abstinence when possible

Limit exposure to your triggers to reduce the need for expensive allergy treatments — or worse, a trip to the emergency room.

Have a pollen allergy? Try to stay indoors when pollen counts are high. Keep your windows closed during pollen season, add a filter attachment to your air conditioner and change your clothing and take a shower when you come home to avoid bringing pollen into your house.

Keeping a clean house minimizes allergic reactions from dust and mold, wearing bug spray can help you steer clear of insects that cause an allergic reaction and checking with restaurants about whether allergens are in your food can help avoid other triggers.

3. Have the money talk with your MD

Cost comes up in only around 30% of conversations patients have with their doctors, according to research from Duke University. That's a shame, because doctors are great resources for helping you save on care.

"Almost half the time that costs come up in conversation, either the doctor or the patient come up with some strategy to lower the patient's out-of-pocket cost," Professor Peter Ubel said in a Duke news release. If they know you are on a tight budget, they may even offer you some of the free samples that pharma reps give them. Don't hesitate to ask if they have any available.

4. Always buy generic

If you can't score any more samples from your doctor, you can still save 50% or more on the costs of your allergy meds by opting for the generic version. "Generic medications are often cheaper than brand name," Dr. Miller told Mic. Compare the costs of Claritin, which comes in at $38.89 for 105 pills of the same 10 mg dose of Loratadine as a generic option, which is just $12.49 for a 365-tablet bottle at Costco.

5. Stock up and save

If you know you'll need a lot of meds, buy them all at once instead of over time in order to save cash and to save on trips to the store. "Buying in bulk is a great way to save money," Dr. Miller suggested.

"After visiting hundreds of stores, our shoppers found that small bottles remain the worst value, unless you have a coupon," Consumer Reports wrote of over-the-counter medications."

"Go small only if you're buying a drug you aren't likely to take very often. For those you take more frequently, go bigger — but not too big. We found that the smartest buy is usually not the giant bottle. Savings on medium sizes are comparable, and the drugs are less likely to expire before you get a chance to take them all."

To be sure, read the "unit price" to find the best bargain.

6. Use the best drugs — the right way

There are endless options for allergy medications, but many are a waste of money. It's important to "take the appropriate class of drug for the symptom you are experiencing," Dr. Miller said. "For example, oral antihistamines work for itchy, teary, runny; they do not help for congestion."

You may also want to take your medication before you're exposed to a trigger if you know that you're in danger of an allergy attack. "Most allergy medicines work best when taken this way," the Asthma and Allergy Foundation wrote. "This allows the medicine to prevent your body from releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause your symptoms."

7. Choose the right pharmacy

If you want the best deal, don't just walk to the nearest local drug store. Instead, consider discount pharmacies and reliable online pharmacies. "You can save a ton if you just compare prices online," Elizabeth Davis, editor-in-chief of GoodRx blog told Time. Savings could be as much as 85%.

Discount pharmacies, like Walmart, will also match prices, and Consumer Reports indicated both Walmart and Target won on their price comparisons for over-the-counter medications, beating out drug stores and supermarkets.

8. Take all the help you can get

There are many programs that help to make medications more affordable, including patient assistance programs offered by drug companies like AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline.

You can also search the internet for coupons on allergy medications. Coupons.com currently has deals for $4.00 off Flonase spray, $8.00 off Xyzal or Nasacort and $6.00 off Allegra. Manufacturer websites may also offer coupons as well, or look around at your pharmacy and drugstore, where you can sometimes find stacks of in-house coupons.

9. Consider alternative treatment options

Medications can be expensive and you could eventually build up resistance, so you may also want to try some lower-cost non-narcotic options, like a neti pot. "The popular nasal irrigation method has been proven to quickly relieve symptoms," AOL advised. "And for less than $20, one purchase can last you months." One note: You must be careful to make sure the water used for your neti pot is sterile, either through boiling or using sealed distilled water, to prevent infection.

Immunotherapy is another option and involves slowly exposing your system to allergens so your immune tolerance builds up and you no longer have an allergic reaction. Costs are usually around $15 to $20 per visit, but could cost as much as $170. However, "in the long term, allergy shots pay for themselves," Neil Kao, an allergist in Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., told Time.

10. Invest in some indoor plants

Indoor air can be around 12 times as polluted as outside air, which is a problem since we spend 90% of our time inside, according to Wise Bread. Indoor plants can help remove pollutants from the air you breathe, helping you to reduce the chance of an allergic reaction.

Some great plants that clean the air you breathe inside your house include palm trees, rubber plants and Boston ferns, which Rodale's Organic Life indicates are "highly efficient at removing other indoor air pollutants."

Of course, you'll want to steer clear of houseplants that cause allergies, like daisies, with a high pollen count, and chamomile, which is in the ragweed family. No sense bringing allergies inside when you're trying to fight them!

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