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Spring Allergies

By Dr. Moghissi - March 2003

This year promises to be especially bad for spring allergies. What to do? There are ads everywhere for many different drugs, what should you use?

There are several different approaches you can take. The most common medications people will use are the antihistamines. Many of the allergy symptoms are caused by the release of histamine, and antihistamines block that release. The most common over the counter versions would be Benadryl, Tavist, and Chlor-Trimeton (and their various house brand versions). These all have properties of sedation, which make people tired and also slows reaction time (especially important when driving). A new class of non-sedating antihistamines was developed several years ago. Claritin, Clarinex, and Allegra are in this class. Zyrtec and Xyzal are sort of in between. They are generally considered mildly sedating. Claritin and Zyrtec are “over the counter”, meaning you no longer need a prescription to buy it.

There are other options, of course. If your primary symptom is nasal congestion, the antihistamines don’t work so well. You can add a decongestant to the antihistamine (such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine), but many people have trouble sleeping while on these, and they can raise your blood pressure. Another option is the nasal sprays. The most common type would be the steroid nasal sprays. They work by decreasing inflammation in the nasal and surrounding area. This will decrease swelling. They are topical, not systemic, meaning they act locally in the nose without going into the blood stream and affecting the entire body. They can also be combined with antihistamines for additive effects. Some common ones would be Flonase, Nasonex, Nasacort and Rhinocort. Their major side effect would be nose bleeds in some people, especially when using this for a long time, although they are generally considered safe to use indefinitely. The nasal steroids also have the advantage of helping with some of the eye and sneezing symptoms.

There is an antihistamine nasal spray called Astelin, which also works well for nasal stuffiness. It is based on one of the older antihistamines though, and can cause drowsiness. Finally, NasalCrom is available over the counter which works by a totally different mechanism. It works really well in some people, not well at all in others.

Singulair, which was previously only used for asthma, is also approved for use in allergies. It helps with nasal congestion and also general allergy symptoms. It very safe, and has few side effects. It turns out asthma and allergies are closely related, and this medication takes advantage of that.

When do you need to see an allergist? Allergy testing would be a major reason. If you want to know what you are allergic to so you can practice avoidance, or if you are interested in allergy shots, you should consider allergy testing.

In general, most allergy medication works best when started 2 weeks prior to exposure to the allergen, and when used regularly, as directed. By the way, much of the above goes for any type of allergy (with the possible exception of food allergies).

I hope this overview will be helpful in helping you decide how to approach this spring’s allergy season!

Jasmine Moghissi, M.D.

Focus - Health Tips » Spring Allergies

Spring Allergies

By Dr. Moghissi - March 2003

This year promises to be especially bad for spring allergies. What to do? There are ads everywhere for many different drugs, what should you use?

There are several different approaches you can take. The most common medications people will use are the antihistamines. Many of the allergy symptoms are caused by the release of histamine, and antihistamines block that release. The most common over the counter versions would be Benadryl, Tavist, and Chlor-Trimeton (and their various house brand versions). These all have properties of sedation, which make people tired and also slows reaction time (especially important when driving). A new class of non-sedating antihistamines was developed several years ago. Claritin, Clarinex, and Allegra are in this class. Zyrtec and Xyzal are sort of in between. They are generally considered mildly sedating. Claritin and Zyrtec are “over the counter”, meaning you no longer need a prescription to buy it.

There are other options, of course. If your primary symptom is nasal congestion, the antihistamines don’t work so well. You can add a decongestant to the antihistamine (such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine), but many people have trouble sleeping while on these, and they can raise your blood pressure. Another option is the nasal sprays. The most common type would be the steroid nasal sprays. They work by decreasing inflammation in the nasal and surrounding area. This will decrease swelling. They are topical, not systemic, meaning they act locally in the nose without going into the blood stream and affecting the entire body. They can also be combined with antihistamines for additive effects. Some common ones would be Flonase, Nasonex, Nasacort and Rhinocort. Their major side effect would be nose bleeds in some people, especially when using this for a long time, although they are generally considered safe to use indefinitely. The nasal steroids also have the advantage of helping with some of the eye and sneezing symptoms.

There is an antihistamine nasal spray called Astelin, which also works well for nasal stuffiness. It is based on one of the older antihistamines though, and can cause drowsiness. Finally, NasalCrom is available over the counter which works by a totally different mechanism. It works really well in some people, not well at all in others.

Singulair, which was previously only used for asthma, is also approved for use in allergies. It helps with nasal congestion and also general allergy symptoms. It very safe, and has few side effects. It turns out asthma and allergies are closely related, and this medication takes advantage of that.

When do you need to see an allergist? Allergy testing would be a major reason. If you want to know what you are allergic to so you can practice avoidance, or if you are interested in allergy shots, you should consider allergy testing.

In general, most allergy medication works best when started 2 weeks prior to exposure to the allergen, and when used regularly, as directed. By the way, much of the above goes for any type of allergy (with the possible exception of food allergies).

I hope this overview will be helpful in helping you decide how to approach this spring’s allergy season!