Seasonal allergy survival guide

  • Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, August 2, 2012 12:42 p.m.

Fall brings with it a fresh new flurry of seasonal allergy symptoms. With a large variety of medications to choose from, the allergy aisle at your local pharmacy can be a downright intimidating and confusing place.

In years past, the only medications available to treat seasonal allergies were dispensed by prescription from a doctor. Now, however, most allergy pills are available without a prescription, referred to as OTC (over-the-counter) medicines. With a large variety of medications to choose from, how do you make the best decision as to which allergy medication is right for you?

To make it simpler, here is a brief allergy survival guide with a few tips and descriptions of available OTC medications:

First, you should know that most OTC allergy medications are available in generic forms. Arguably, there is very little difference between name brands and generic allergy medicines. Consequently, there may be a significant cost savings with a generic without sacrificing the medicationís effectiveness.

Look for an antihistamine, not a decongestant (such as Sudafed), to treat typical allergy symptoms. However, antihistamine/decongestant combinations such as Claritin-D can help treat the nasal stuffiness that accompanies later-phase allergy symptoms.

To work best, antihistamines should be taken on a daily basis throughout the season, ideally at the first hint of allergy symptoms.

Resist the temptation to use eye drops and nose sprays that offer ďimmediate relief.Ē These can be habit forming and only really mask symptoms for a short time.

Diphenhydramine (generic Benadryl) is one of the oldest OTC antihistamines. It is very strong but can also make you feel extremely drowsy. Thatís why diphenhydramine is found in sleep aids such as Tylenol PM. Also, it is dosed inconveniently ó every four hours.

Loratidine (generic Claritin) was the first non-sedating allergy medicine available over the counter. It is effective without causing drowsiness.

Cetirizine (generic Zyrtec) can be somewhat sedating but is considered safe in pregnancy and works very well for hives and nasal symptoms.

Fexofenadine (generic Allegra) is the most recent antihistamine to come to the OTC market. It works well in reducing symptoms and is non-sedating. However, it is a rather large pill.

Despite OTC treatment, sometimes these medications leave patients still needing more relief. Thatís when it's recommended to make an appointment for an evaluation. At that point additional treatment can be considered. For example, a prescription nasal spray or eye drops may be advised, or even a consultation with an allergist. It is also possible that an alternative diagnosis might be considered.

So donít let seasonal allergies prevent you from enjoying the crisp days outside. Take this survival guide with you to the pharmacy, and if you donít find what you need, see your doctor so we can get you out there to enjoy this Carolina fall while it lasts!

Suffering from allergies? Dr. Robert Whitaker, MD, board-certified otolaryngologist at Presbyterian ENT & Allergy can help. To learn more information, call the office at 704-637-5668.

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