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Tricks, treats and taxes

Headaches, tax and otherwise

As someone who focuses on taxes for a living, you'd think I'd be inured to headaches. But as someone who also has endured allergies my whole life, I've learned that pollen-produced head pain is worse than any the tax code has generated.

It's my second autumn in Central Texas, but the area's allergens seem to be hitting me harder this year. In addition to regular sneezing bouts, my swollen sinuses have made my head home to a low, but persistent, throb for the last couple of weeks.

I'm now more of a regular at my local Walgreens pharmacy counter than I am at the neighborhood Starbucks. The pharmacists get out the Sudafed and Claritin-D (recommended by Bruce) as soon as they see me coming down the aisle. And I'm expecting Christmas cards from every drugstore employee, since they know my address and other personal info by heart, thanks to the continual recording of it per state and federal anti-meth lab laws.

Location has never made an appreciable difference to my allergies. I suffered through them growing up in West Texas and encountered new and exciting pollens in Maryland, my first move out of my home state.

South Florida's subtropical flora presented a year-round challenge. And now, in a part of Texas that's much more verdant than the desert scrub of my youth, my nose is in overdrive.

Aafa_fall06_allergy_capitals I'm not alone. Thousands of us allergic Austinites check the daily pollen count. So we were not at all surprised to see the city come in 12th on the latest list of "the 100 most challenging places to live with allergies."

That's two places higher than last year in the autumn version of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation's biannual (spring and fall) rankings. It also explains why I sneezed less in 2005.

Tax breaks for allergy remedies: While we wait for medical science to come up with the definitive Rx for our ailments, we can at least get a bit of a tax break for the costs of the various nonprescription medications we use to stem the sniffling.

One of the best breaks, even for the allergy immune, is a flexible spending account at work, especially since the money can be used to pay for over-the-counter medicine. That includes the various allergy, cold and sinus tablets, as well as headache-specific treatments.

That means that HeadOn, the roll-on painkiller with the incredibly annoying television ads, is FSA eligible. Haven't seen the ad? Then you're not watching enough late-night cable TV. Luckily, YouTube is around to fill your commercial void:

I actually bought the product, mainly in the hopes that if the company sold enough, it could afford a better ad agency! It does seem to help, but maybe it was my head pain making me desperate to believe something was working.

If the OTC treatments don't make any or enough difference, there's always a trip to the allergist. Again, you can recover copays for these office visits and any deductibles you must meet before insurance kicks in from your spending account.

If you don't have insurance, don't have very good insurance or simply spent a whole lot on medial treatments, you also might be able to get some tax help by deducting these expenses on Schedule A. Just remember, you need a lot -- 7.5% of your adjusted gross income -- for this tax break to pay off. And you can't use any FSA-reimbursed expenses to meet that threshold.

Additional details on itemized medical deductions are found here. For more on spending accounts and how they work, check out this story. And if your company's benefits open enrollment (tips here) is still going on, consider signing up for a flexible spending account.

Sorry, though. All those boxes of Kleenex aren't tax deductible or eligible for FSA reimbursement.


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