The Health Risks of Self-Prescribing Over-the-Counter Allergy Meds
April ushers in many positives, like warmer weather, longer hours of daylight and plenty of flowers. But it also brings with it some negatives for those with allergies. As trees bud and blossom and grasses reawaken from their winter slumber, so too do the allergens they and other plants carry. It can make spring a tricky time of year for allergy sufferers. Identifying which tree or grass allergen triggers your symptoms will provide you the advantage of taking the right medication at the right time to prevent symptoms.
Allergies are among the leading causes of chronic illnesses in the United States, with more than 50 million individuals suffering, or about 15 percent of the total population, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
For many, spring kicks off allergic rhinitis season, more commonly known as hay fever, which can last well into fall. It results in myriad cold-like symptoms, including a stuffy and/or runny nose, itchy eyes, headaches and sneezing. Combined, the symptoms can force negative lifestyle changes, like sleepless nights and avoiding the outdoors.
Left untreated, or improperly treated, allergic rhinitis not only makes for unpleasant lifestyle choices, but can ultimately result in serious health problems, including sinus and ear infections, conjunctivitis, asthma, bronchitis, eczema, fatigue and even sleep apnea, which can be life-threatening.
Those conditions also lead to decreased performance and absences at work and school. Children who suffer from allergic rhinitis may also be shy and experience depression anxiety, fearfulness and fatigue.
To combat the onslaught of symptoms, many Americans turn to the dozens of over-the-counter medicines available at drug and grocery stores, online retailers and more. A 2015 study by research company IRI found that Americans make 2.9 billion retail trips annually to procure over-the-counter medicine, leading to a household average of $338 annually.
A similar study found that 93 percent of American adults don’t seek out a health care professional before self-diagnosing and taking over-the-counter medicine. Ease of access and the marketed promise of relief makes these seem like great options. But the results can vary when patients self-treat. Over-the-counter medicines don’t treat the underlying cause and may not be wholly effective at treating symptoms since a combination is usually required. Plus, they’re often accompanied by undesirable side effects like sleeplessness, nervousness, drowsiness, increased blood pressure, headaches, dry mouth, constipation and blurred vision. Certain nasal sprays can even cause rebound effects, making your nose even stuffier than before, and causing you to become dependent on the medication.
There are three types of medicines used to relieve allergic rhinitis symptoms: decongestants, antihistamines, and nasal steroids. Decongestants decrease fluid that makes its way into the nasal passages as a result of allergic reactions and are effective against a stuffy and/or runny nose. These are also available as nasal spray decongestants.
Antihistamines block histamine, a chemical released in the body when an allergic reaction occurs. In doing so, it decreases symptoms like sneezing, itching, running nose and eye irritation. There are many generations of antihistamines, which have varying side effects. Another option is a nasal steroid, among the most popular treatments for allergic rhinitis.
While over-the-counter medicines can seem like a great idea for allergy sufferers, for those with chronic allergic rhinitis, it’s important to seek the expertise of a board certified allergist. Allergy & Asthma Specialists has a team of board certified physicians who can assess and diagnose allergies and prescribe subsequent treatment, be those over-the-counter or prescription medications.
Striking the right balance for your allergies with over-the-counter medicine is near impossible without medical expertise and identifying your allergy triggers. And it can result in negative side effects. It is also tricky to guess proper timing for an allergen on your own, making allergists invaluable. Once you identify your allergy triggers and when they begin to release into the air, the allergist can tell you when to start your treatment plan to avoid symptoms.
If your symptoms persist, season after season, year after year, you might want to consider immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is one of the most effective means of treating allergies, often resulting in near complete relief of symptoms. Immunotherapy, as injections, drops or tablets, treats the underlying cause of the allergic reaction, slowly allowing your body to naturally tolerate the allergens that trigger your symptoms. It also decreases the need for antihistamines and decongestants.
To ensure symptom relief that addresses the underlying cause, see an allergist to find the right medicine regimen for you—and get back to enjoying life symptom-free.
Feel better. Sleep better. Look better. See an allergist.
Offices are located in Center City Philadelphia, King of Prussia, Blue Bell, Jenkintown, Doylestown, Lansdale, Collegeville and Pottstown. To schedule an appointment at an Allergy & Asthma Specialists location near you, call 1-800-86COUGH, extension 2 or visit their website today.