Allergy Season is Upon Us
Spring not only brings warmer weather, but is also the start of allergy season for millions of people. As the trees, grasses, weeds and flowers begin to bloom, different pollens are produced and spread throughout the air.
These pollens trigger histamine release in the body, which leads to allergy symptoms such as sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, runny nose, and congestion.
You may be more likely to have allergies if you have asthma or eczema or if someone in your family also has allergies. Allergies can develop at any age but are more common in young children (> 2 years of age) or young adults. Seasonal allergies occur during the time of year when certain plants and trees begin to pollinate. For some people, allergies can occur all year round. Allergy symptoms can be severe and disrupt daily functions if not treated.
Although there is no easy cure for allergies, there are different steps that can be taken to help control symptoms. If you know particular irritants cause your allergies, the best treatment is to avoid them if possible. This includes limiting your time outdoors when pollen levels are high. The less exposure to the allergen, the less likely you will have symptoms. Most people will require a medication to help reduce their symptoms, however. Over- the- counter (OTC) remedies include oral antihistamines, decongestants, eye drops, nasal sprays and nasal rinses.
Antihistamines help reduce itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and runny nose. First generation antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) and chlorpheniramine can cause significant drowsiness and are not an ideal option for people who need to be active during the day. Dry mouth, urinary retention, and confusion can also occur with these medications and should be avoided in older adults. Loratadine (Claritin®), cetirizine (Zyrtec®), and fexofenadine (Allegra®) are second generation antihistamines, have fewer side effects and once a day dosing. All these oral antihistamines are generic and available over-the-counter. Zatidor® (ketotifen) is an antihistamine eye drop and the first of its kind to go over-the-counter. Other antihistamine eye drops and nasal sprays are also available by prescription.
Decongestants help to relieve nasal congestion and include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed®) and phenylephrine. Pseudoephedrine is more effective, but it can also lead to unwanted side effects such as increased blood pressure, irritability, headache, and difficulty sleeping. It should be avoided if you have glaucoma, problems with urination, or have risk factors for or a history of heart attack or stroke. Sudafed® is available behind the pharmacy counter, and a pharmacist should be consulted prior to using this medication. Oxymetazoline (Afrin®) is an effective nasal decongestant, but its use should be limited to a maximum of three days to avoid causing rebound congestion.
Other options for treatment
There are several combinations of antihistamines and decongestants that may provide more complete relief. Other products that will help you get through allergy season include various eye drops that contain ingredients to help with redness and itching, and saline nasal sprays and rinses to clear out the nasal passages, called a neti pot.
When should I go see my doctor?
If OTC medications do not reduce your allergy symptoms, it may be time to talk to your provider about starting a prescription medication. Intranasal steroids like fluticasone (Flonase®) are often used when patients have moderate to severe allergy symptoms. They work best if used daily during allergy season to help control allergy symptoms or prevent them. Nasocort® (triamcinolone acetonide) recently became the first nasal steroid available OTC. It is important to speak to your pharmacist prior to using this product to make sure it is appropriate. Patients who also have asthma may respond better to montelukast (Singulair®), which helps limit the release of a substance called leukotriene that can lead to allergy symptoms. Allergy drops or shots may be another option offered by some allergy specialists.
Our pharmacists are ready to recommend the right product to help relieve your allergy symptoms.