It's that time of the year again when pollen counts are high, and seasonal allergies are at their worst. The sneezing, itchy eyes, and overall misery can interfere with work, school, or recreation. If left untreated, allergies can worsen and trigger other health problems such as asthma, sinus infections, and ear infections.
An allergy is your body's response to a substance that it mistakenly identifies as harmful. These substances, called allergens, trigger the immune system to release chemicals like histamines, which cause symptoms such as repetitive sneezing, itchy, and watery eyes.
To manage allergy symptoms, healthcare providers may recommend prescription or over-the-counter medications. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates various medications that offer allergy relief. Antihistamines, available in different forms, are one of the most commonly used allergy medicines. They block or reduce symptom-causing histamines, and non-sedating options are available over-the-counter and by prescription.
Patients should read the Drug Facts label carefully and follow dosing instructions, especially with OTC antihistamines. Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness and affect the ability to drive or operate heavy machinery. Nasal corticosteroids are another option for treating inflammation and reducing allergy symptoms, available OTC and by prescription. They may cause side effects such as stinging in the nose, nosebleeds, and growth effects in some children.
Decongestants, available in oral and nasal spray forms, are sometimes recommended in combination with antihistamines. They are available both by prescription and OTC, but drugs containing pseudoephedrine are available without a prescription, kept behind the pharmacy counter to prevent their use in making illegal drugs.
Immunotherapy, another option, involves injecting gradually increasing doses of a specific allergen to develop immunity or tolerance to it. Patients can receive injections from a healthcare provider, and treatment could continue monthly for three to five years. Another form of allergen immunotherapy is administering allergens in a tablet form under the tongue (sublingual) before and during the pollen season, available only by prescription for the treatment of hay fever caused by certain pollens. These have the potential for dialing down the immune response to allergens but are not meant for immediate symptom relief.
It's essential to read the label before buying any OTC products and consult healthcare providers before using nasal steroid sprays for more than two months a year, especially for children. With proper management and medication, seasonal allergies can be controlled, and patients can enjoy the outdoors with fewer symptoms.