Everyone is familiar with allergies. Constant sneezing. Nasal congestion. That awful runny and itchy nose… who can forget symptoms like those? Most people don’t know that allergies are actually our bodies overreacting to something that it normally wouldn’t (or shouldn’t).
Our bodies and immune systems fight back against what they interpret as invaders by releasing a chemical called histamine which is responsible for the symptoms we associate with allergies. These symptoms include nasal congestion, sneezing, a runny or itchy nose, dry or itchy eyes, and dry mouth. Other symptoms include postnasal drip, cough (associated with asthma); and fatigue (in children).
Things that cause our bodies to release histamine and give us allergies are called “allergens.” Different allergens cause histamine release in different people. Allergy symptoms can arise during certain seasons or exist year-round. If you have year-round or long episodes of allergies, you may be allergic to pet dander, dust mites, mold, and other things common in homes or outside.
Seasonal allergies (also called hay fever) vary from person to person based on the season. If your allergies are worse in the spring (like mine are!), you’re likely allergic to tree pollen. If you have allergies in the summer, you may have an allergy to grass and weed pollen. Lastly, if you suffer more in the fall, your allergies are likely due to the higher ragweed counts.
Why do you have to treat allergies?
Allergy symptoms can affect your quality of life. Besides being annoying to deal with, allergies can also have lasting negative effects on your health. If you suffer from allergies and don’t treat them, over time your nasal passageways can become chronically inflamed and overly sensitive. Being less tolerant to allergens means that you will have reactions to lesser amounts of whatever it is you’re allergic to. People with allergies are also at a higher risk for developing asthma, ear infections (children more than adults), nasal polyps, respiratory infections, and eczema.
There are two options to prevent and deal with allergy symptoms: avoid the allergen or decrease the body’s response to them with treatment. It can be difficult to avoid the allergen, especially if you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re allergic to. Avoidance may not always be practical—it’s tough to live a productive life if you never leave your house! There are many different options for the treatment of allergies.
What are some treatment options for allergies for adults?
Walking down the allergy aisle at any store can seem overwhelming. How do you know what to choose? Does one medicine work better than the others? There are many types of medication you can get over the counter to treat allergies, and they all work differently. The types available over the counter include intranasal steroids (Flonase and Nasacort), oral antihistamines (Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec, Xyzal), oral decongestants (Sudafed, Sudafed PE), among others. It is important that you choose one that is appropriate based on your symptoms, particularly how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms for. Remember earlier when I said people can have seasonal, episodic, or year-round allergies? The type of allergies you have will affect what kind of medicine is recommended for you.
Over-the-Counter Allergy Treatment Table
Other Miscellaneous Over the Counter Allergy Medications
- Ocular antihistamines (for the eyes): If your allergy symptoms are primarily red, itchy or watery eyes, there are antihistamine products developed specifically for the eyes. Zaditor is one such medication. Always check the minimum age on the package labeling.
- Nasal decongestants: If you have severe nasal congestion, you may want to try a decongesting nasal spray. These can be great for clearing nasal passageways, but it is important to remember that they can only be used for 3 days before taking a break from them. If used for longer than 3 days, these products can cause what’s called “rebound congestion,” which can be harder to treat than the original congestion!
It’s important to note that there are also products used to treat allergies that are prescription only. When you have tried the over the counter options and it doesn’t seem like any of them are helping, it may be time to see your doctor and look at other options.
Ask Your Local Pharmacist How to Treat Allergies This Spring!
There are many over the counter options to treat allergies. Recommended treatment depends on your symptoms, how long you have symptoms, as well as any other medical conditions you have. It may be best for you to consult your pharmacist or doctor in order to find the best product for your needs.
The most important thing to remember after you have picked out a product is to be consistent with it. You may not notice immediate results with intranasal steroids, so it’s vital to keep using them to get the best results and allergy symptom relief. The products listed in this article are specifically tailored to adults—recommendations will be different for children and infants. As always, feel free to stop by the pharmacy or give us a call if you have any questions about allergy medications or what may be best for you!
(Source Hannah, PharmD)