I just read an article explaining how climate change is giving us longer, more intense allergy seasons.
That’s good news for bees, but not for an allergy sufferer like me.
As I said in a previous post, I prefer to use a neti pot over taking medication. It works great for me, but I know a neti pot won’t be everyone’s first choice.
Over-the-counter allergy medications can be expensive, though, even the generics. Know what you need before you buy. Then shop for the best price. I always recommend buying the store brand.
Here is some information about the various types of drugs marketed to treat seasonal allergies:
Antihistamines are the gold standard to treat allergies. When you are allergic to something, your body releases chemicals called histamines, which cause the well-known symptoms of sneezing and a runny nose.
Benadryl (dephenhydramine) is the oldest and probably cheapest antihistamine, but it causes the most drowsiness. It should be taken at bedtime.
The newer generation of antihistamines such as Xyzal (levocetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), Claritin or Alavert (loratadine), Clarinex (desloratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine) claim to be non-drowsy, but some people will still experience drowsiness when taking them. To be safe, take them at bedtime, and don’t take more than the recommended dose.
If I wasn’t happy with my neti pot, I would use one of these antihistamines (the cheapest, of course).
Other common side effects include dry nasal passages, dry mouth and dry eyes—unfortunately making red, itchy eyes even more red and painful. One of the major reasons I don’t like taking antihistamines is because of my eyes. They suffer the most from seasonal allergies and I don’t want to make them worse.
Related post: Home remedies for allergy eyes
Consumer Reports recommended the generics cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra) and loratadine (Claritin) as Best Buys for treating seasonal allergies.
Decongestants, such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine), Sudafed PE (phenylephrine) and Afrin (oxymetazoline) don’t treat the underlying cause of allergies, the histamines, but they are often advertised as allergy treatments anyway.
Decongestants relieve nasal congestion by shrinking the blood vessels in your nose, which leads to dryness of the nose, mouth, and eyes. Nose bleeds are not uncommon when taking decongestants. Other frequent side effects are light-headedness and rapid heart rate.
(When I was in college, Sudafed was commonly used by young women as a weight-loss drug. More recently it has been used to make meth, which is why it’s difficult to find in drugstores. Usually, it’s kept behind the counter and you have to ask the pharmacist.)
And be sure to read the warning box on the label. Decongestants should not be taken in combination with some medications, or if you have certain health conditions.
Some over-the-counter allergy products are combinations of antihistamines and decongestants (Claritin-D, Allegra-D). Don’t buy a combined product if you don’t need both.
Nasal sprays are popular because they seem to really get to the heart of the problem—your nose. There are several types of nasal sprays marketed to treat allergies and/or nasal congestion. Each works differently, which is why it’s important to know what you are buying.
- Saline sprays. These are just salt water in a nasal applicator. They are usually inexpensive, easy to use, and have no side effects. They are supposed to moisten your nasal passages and rinse out some of the allergens. But I’ve tried them and don’t think they work all that well. If you want to avoid allergy drugs, try a neti pot instead.
- Antihistamine sprays. Nasalcrom (cromolyn sodium) isn’t really an antihistamine; it’s something called a “mast cell stabilizer.” But it does block the release of histamine, so I’m going to call it one. It doesn’t have an immediate effect, however, like the prescription-only antihistamine nasal sprays. You need to use it for several days to notice if it’s working.
- Decongestant sprays. Sprays such as Afrin, Vicks Sinex, and Mucinex Sinus-Max (oxymetazoline) have the same active ingredient as oral decongestants. These sprays will dry out your nasal passages and cause discomfort and possibly nose bleeds. Worse, if used for more than a few days, you can also get “rebound” congestion, where your nose becomes more congested than ever.
- Steroid sprays. Flonase (fluticasone), Rhinocort (budesonide), Nasonex (mometasone) and Nasacort (triamcinolone) are corticosteroids. They decrease inflammation in your nasal passages. Again, nasal dryness is common.
Seasonal allergy medications are a multi-billion dollar industry in the US. Don’t waste your money on a product that doesn’t work or causes too many side effects.
Know what you need before you buy.