Seasonal Allergies: Resolve That Itch
Seasonal allergies are one of the most common conditions plaguing Americans, and allergy season is among us. As many as 60 million people annually are affected by seasonal allergies in the United States. Symptoms cans range from coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and scratchy throat all the way to hives and rashes. While there isn’t a cure for seasonal allergies, there are some over-the-counter medications that can help manage these symptoms. Antihistamine medications are hot off the shelf when people are experiencing these symptoms! Antihistamines include brand names like Benadryl®, Zyrtec®, Claritin®, Allegra®, and Xyzal®.
When your body encounters an allergy trigger or foreign substance, histamine is released. Histamine release can lead to all the annoying symptoms mentioned above that we blame our seasonal allergies for. While these over-the-counter antihistamines can be helpful and resolve your current “itch”, there is a lot of talk recently concerning the use of antihistamines long-term. It is well known that antihistamines can impair cognition while the medication is actively in your system, but generally this is reversed once the medication is stopped. As you age you become more sensitive to potential side effects, but recent findings are connecting constant use of antihistamines for more than 3 years to an increased risk of dementia. This new information means that we need to continuously evaluate our current choice for symptom relief and to only take antihistamine medications when needed. For example, if you are prescribed or take an antihistamine daily, you should talk to your doctor about changing it to “as needed for allergy symptoms.”
As we have discussed impaired cognition, it is worth noting that some antihistamines are more sedating than others. Benadryl® (diphenhydramine) and cyproheptadine are 1st generation antihistamines, and are often found in combination products (such as Nyquil® or other night-time cold medicines). These products tend to be more sedating than the newer 2nd generation antihistamines which include Zyrtec® (cetirizine), Claritin® (loratadine), Allegra® (fexofenadine), and Xyzal® (levocetirizine). The 2nd generation products are preferred for seasonal allergy use due to their better side effect profile.
When battling your seasonal allergies, be sure to only use these products as long as required. Be aware of what your symptoms are, as symptoms may present differently for everyone or differently for you depending on the season. Keep in mind that there may be another more appropriate option for your current symptom. Flonase® (fluticasone) can be very effective for sneezing or itchy or runny nose. Zaditor® (ketotifen) or Visine A eye drops can be effective for itchy, irritated eyes. For those who don’t have issues with hypertension, Sudafed® (pseudoephedrine) is effective for nasal congestion.
Unfortunately, allergy symptoms are not “one-size-fits-all.” Be aware of combination products when browsing the pharmacy shelves, as you may be adding extra medications with unwanted drug interactions and side effects that you are not looking for. Many combination products contain Tylenol® (acetaminophen) or Advil® (ibuprofen), which could be an issue depending on your health conditions. Some combinations include a decongestant like Sudafed® which can increase blood pressure. Some products contain more sedating antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), which could be problematic if you are taking during the daytime.
If you need help choosing an over-the-counter medication for your seasonal allergy symptoms, stop by your local pharmacy or give your pharmacist a call! Pharmacists can help you choose which product will best fit your current symptoms and help to avoid added products that you don’t necessarily need. Pharmacists that have access to your full medication list can even better help you as they will be able to take into account any other medical conditions that you may have.
Written by: Erin Tucker, Pharm.D.