Along with sunny days and warmer temperatures, spring also brings something most of us are not excited about … allergies. Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the United States, and are a major financial burden with an estimated $18 billion spent annually on prevention and treatment.1 And like any enemy, allergies change tactics. In the case of allergy triggers, they change with the seasons. Springtime allergens predominantly include tree pollens, followed by grass and weed pollens in the summer, and molds in the fall.
The presence of specific pollens always changes based on weather and geographic location.2 This year, the pollen count is said to be very high due to increased precipitation during the winter months.
So what are allergies? Simply put,an allergy is a heightened response of the body’s immune system to particular triggers/substances. When exposed to these substances, the immune system releases a chemical called histamine, which is responsible for allergic symptoms. These symptoms include itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, postnasal drip, and possible chest tightness. But don’t fear, weary allergy-ridden comrades, for there is hope!
Most over-the-counter allergy medications are antihistamines, and they work by preventing cells from releasing histamine, therefore preventing allergy symptoms.
- The older antihistamine products such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimaton), brompheniramine (Bromfed), and doxylamine work really well in relieving allergy symptoms.
- Be warned, their side effects are such that you may rather have the allergy symptoms than the side affects of the allergy medication. These side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, and blurry vision just to name a few. These products can be used in children older than 5 years (always check with a doctor before giving any of these medications to children).
- But like with electronics, allergy medications have gotten better overtime! The newer antihistamines (cetirizine/Zyrtec® , loratadine/Claritin®, and fexofenadine/Allegra®) work just as well and do not cause drowsiness in most patients. They can be used in anyone 2 years and older (again, always check with your child’s doctor first).
Antihistamines not cutting it for you? Still feel like you’re in a fog and experiencing nightmares involving pollen? Another class of medications which may be helpful in treating your symptoms is decongestants.
- These include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and phenylephrine (SudafedPE). They work by constricting blood vessels in your nose, and at the same time make it easier to breathe. But before you jump in,
- Be careful – these medications have a lot of side effects, such as trouble sleeping, anxiety, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure.
- If your blood pressure is not well controlled or if you have heart problems, you should not use these medications unless you are told to do so by your doctor. And remember… always talk to your pharmacist about other medications you are taking!
Pseudoephedrine products don’t require a prescription but they are kept behind the pharmacy counter because of abuse concerns (pseudoephedrine can be used to make meth. But that’s a long story for another blog post). If you need to purchase them, ask the pharmacist and always bring your ID – you cannot purchase this medication without and ID.
Many of the products discussed here are available in combination with each other as well as with cough suppressants, expectorants, or pain relievers. If you’re taking more than one product, be careful that the ingredients are not duplicated. If you’re unsure, ask the pharmacist for help.
When waging your personal war on allergies, it’s important to know that you have more artillery at your disposal than just oral medications! You can attack symptoms like itchy eyes and nasal congestion at their source with eye drops and nasal sprays. Applying the product directly to the source of the problem generally means faster relief and because these medications are not absorbed by the body, they generally do not cause many side effects. If you decide to use decongestant nasal sprays, make sure you don’t use them for over three consecutive days. Otherwise, you could end up with worse congestion than you started with! Many nasal sprays consist of the decongestants which were discussed earlier and their effect lasts anywhere from 4 to 12 hours. Afrin® (oxymetazoline) is the most common and popular nasal decongestant spray. Saline sprays may also provide some relief of allergy symptoms and are especially recommendedfor children or females who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Natural, non-medication allergy remedies are also available for allergy sufferers. The use of a humidifier, neti pot or squeeze/spray bottle may help with nasal congestion. These products work by utilizing warm water or steam to alleviate symptoms and clear the sinuses.
Remember to always read the medication directions. If you have any questions or concerns regarding allergy medications and/or potential poisoning concerns, please call the Illinois Poison Center at 800-222-1222.