Spring has officially arrived and with it an onslaught of pollen sure to send many folks straight to the pharmacy counter in search of relief.
As trees begin to bud and grasses begin to grow, those who suffer from seasonal allergies may experience itching of the eyes, nose, throat and ears, sneezing, irritability, nasal congestion and hoarseness.
“Allergy season is starting,” said Kevin Foor, pharmacist at the Medicine Shoppe, Huntingdon. “As the grass starts to get greener, people start to be affected. We’re not quite there yet as it tends to peak at the end of May and early June, but it’s starting.”
For much of the United States, the advent of allergy season may begin as early as February and carries through early summer. The most common culprits behind the respiratory irritation is the pollen from trees and grasses in the spring and summer, followed by ragweed in the late summer and fall.
“Allergens cause a histamine reaction which is what causes the runny nose and watery eyes,” Foor said. “So, for most people, they treat seasonal allergies with an antihistamine. They block that reaction.”
Histamine is a compound which is involved in immune responses to foreign pathogens and causes an inflammatory reaction.
“Traditional antihistamines like Benedryl and Chlor-Trimeton work well, but the biggest side effect is drowsiness,” he said. “We now have second-generation antihistamines in non-drowsy versions, like Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra and Xyzal. Those are the standards.”
In years’ past, many antihistamines were available only by prescription, but now, a majority can be purchased at a pharmacy or grocery store.
“Most have become generally available over the counter,” said Foor. “The newer formulations — the non-drowsy — all used to be by prescription only, but in the last few years they have all gone over the counter.”
Another type of medication used to treat seasonal allergies serves to counter the after-effects of the histamine reaction by addressing the inflammation.
“The second line of allergy medications is the nasal sprays. In the same way as the antihistamines, most used to be by prescription but then went to over the counter,” he said. “The nasal sprays are anti-inflammatories and what they do is reduce the inflammation in the nasal passage way.”
Two of the most recognizable brands of nasal sprays currently available include Flonase and Nasacort.
“In general, these are the second stage of treatment for seasonal allergies,” Foor said. “Most people try the antihistamines and then the nasal sprays.”
He added that for all of the name-brand over-the-counter medications mentioned, generics are also available.
“They have gone to over the counter because they are very safe and there are not a lot of side effects and not a lot of long-term effects,” he said. “So many people can self-medicate for their seasonal allergies.”