a woman with allergies or a cold blows her nose into a tissue, senses of smell and taste, seasonal allergies

Breathing is basic. Most of the time we take it for granted. But if your nose is congested and your sinuses are stopped up due to seasonal allergies, you are miserable.

Seasonal Allergies Affect Your Brain:

For one thing, your head feels as if it’s full of cotton. Studies have found that people suffering from allergic rhinitis frequently experience sleep difficulties, fatigue, poor concentration, drowsiness, irritability, delayed reaction times, memory problems, and cognitive impairment (Hartgerink-Lutgens et al, Clinical and Experimental Allergy, April 2009; Trikojat et al, Clinical and Experimental Allergy, April 2017). When you are in the middle of an allergy attack, it is hard to drive safely even if you are not sneezing (Vuurman et al, Allergy, July 2014). Making decisions or operating other kinds of machinery can also be problematic.

The Trouble with Antihistamines:

Paradoxically, although antihistamines are a mainstay for treating seasonal allergies, older antihistamines can also cause drowsiness, delayed reaction times, sedation, and cognitive impairment (Inami et al, Human Psychopharmacology, May 2016). Even the so-called second-generation non-sedating antihistamines that are so heavily advertised to consumers (for example, cetirizine, fexofenadine, levocetirizine or loratadine) may not be as benign as drug companies would have you believe. When given in doses that are adequate to relieve symptoms, some of these non-sedating antihistamines, particularly cetirizine, may also make people drowsy and impair performance (Hetland & Carr, Annals of Pharmacotherapy, April 2014).

Research has shown that driving skills may be affected by both older and the newer antihistamines. A massive study conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discovered that driving while drowsy–no matter what the cause–increased the risk of a crash or near crash by four to six times.

Are Allergies Truly Seasonal?

Physicians often think of allergies as more of a temporary nuisance than a life-threatening condition. But we now realize that impairment poses huge risks if people are driving. And allergy symptoms don’t just occur in the spring and fall, when pollen is in the air. Nowadays many folks are congested all year long.

At last count, 50 million people are sensitive to things like dust mites, cat dander, cockroaches, mold spores, and pollens from oak, elm, and maple trees as well as ragweed and rye, blue, and Bermuda grasses. Symptoms include nasal stuffiness, runny nose, itching, sneezing, and coughing.

Chronic sinusitis, which may develop as a consequence of allergies, affects more than 30 million people. And asthma, which can be life threatening, often has an allergic and inflammatory component.

What is scariest about these statistics is that they keep going up. No one knows why, but it appears that more people are suffering than ever before.

What Can You Do About Your Allergies?

Allergies don’t get the respect they deserve. When you complain about your congestion, most friends and family members will barely sympathize. But allergies can slow you down and make you dangerous behind the wheel. Finding the right treatment to ease your symptoms without causing worse problems is a challenge. Combining several options, including environmental control, may be the most effective solution for solving this common problem.

  • Use a HEPA-type air filter and a dehumidifier to remove allergens from the air you breathe and make the environment inhospitable for the three Ms of allergy–mold, mildew, and mites.
  • Get a high-quality vacuum cleaner that won’t spew dust and dirt back into the air. Miele models rank high on our list.
  • Wash your nasal passages with saline. A neti pot will help.
  • Consider an herbal treatment such as stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) or butterbur (Petasites hybridus). Men with prostate enlargement may find nettles especially helpful since some OTC allergy medicines may make this condition worse.
  • The natural products quercetin and bromelain may help stabilize mast cells and prevent histamine release.
  • Cromolyn (NasalCrom) is an OTC remedy that also stabilizes mast cells. It should be used preventively before exposure to allergens occurs. Cromolyn does not cause drowsiness.
  • Oral antihistamines can control symptoms, but they may also make you dangerous on the highways. Even nonsedating products may interfere with driving ability. One of the newer antihistamines such as loratadine (AlavertClaritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra) or levocetirizine (Xyzal) is preferable to an old-fashioned drug such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton).
  • Among prescription allergy medicines, steroid nasal sprays offer the most effective symptom relief with a minimum of side effects. The cost is significant, since many are available only by prescription. One generic variety (flunisolide) is less expensive than brand-name prescription products. Budesonide (Rhinocort Allergy Spray), fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief) and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24HR) are available without a prescription.
  • Pseudoephedrine can be surprisingly effective at controlling allergy symptoms. Beware of side effects such as insomnia, nervousness, high blood pressure, and irregular heart rhythms. Men with enlarged prostate glands should avoid pseudoephedrine since it can cause urinary difficulties. Although this is a non-prescription product, many pharmacies have limited access to it.

Revised 5/8/17

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  1. Kate

    Hi. When I lived in DC (allergy capital of the world cause of flowering trees) I was told to wash my hair everyday as well as use saline solution in my nasal passages. It worked for me.

  2. Rick

    Could it be that your house is poorly ventilated? Do you eat right and exercise? Are you too clean living in a bubble? I use to be allergic to cats, dogs, Scottish grass, dust, etc.. But guess what the real problem was? It was my mom’s smoking…. And eventually my body built up a tolerance to the cats and dogs. When I pet a cat sometimes my allergies come back but I don’t’ take medication I let my body do its thing. And I’m better for it. I’m off those nasty medications. Let your body to its magic. You might be surprised.

  3. Marcus

    I am allergic to dust mites – I got hypoallergenic covers for both my mattress and pillows and that as worked wonders. I agree very much with the article – allergies are a big pain and don’t get much sympathy…

  4. ja

    For dust or what-ever problems with breathing problems including sneezing, I use a little squeeze bottle full of water and 1/2 teaspoon of sea-salt, well shaken. And just squirt each nostril once and sometimes twice.

  5. JLL

    It would be so wonderful if it was possible to simply “share” the article with an email address for the anti-socialnetworker. If that isn’t a word, it certainly should be.

  6. paulbyr

    I fairly often have sneezing attacks only in the early evening (6PM -9PM) when I am upstairs using my computer. They are easily controlled with my allergy pill but until I get up and go downstairs, I might sneeze 30 times. I know I am allergic to paper dust – open an old book and …achoo!

  7. P Freire

    I had problems with allergies. I starting taking two teaspoons of raw apple cider vinegar 3 times a day, half hour before meals and I don’t have any more allergies, no more mucous in my throat.
    It feels like a miracle.

  8. chris

    My allergies were almost incapacitating for me this year. Out of desperation, I bought a bottle of quercetin in hope it might help with the vertigo I was experiencing. After about a week, I realized that I felt much better in every way: the fatigue was gone, the flu-like body aches were gone, the bloating and digestive upset was much improved, the foggy head feeling was better. I had not associated these secondary symptoms with my seasonal allergies, but now I’m wondering about it and think I can see a connection over the years. I am also continuing to take my usual multivitamin that has plenty of C and some bromelain.

  9. zarin a.

    I myself suffer from this and am unable to find out the allergen. I have also developed nummular eczema which is also caused by allergens. I am thinking of trying out the one litre everyday oolong tea remedy… hope it works out.

  10. EAB

    I have a feeling that the reason the statistics keep going up is that there are so many scented candles, scented air fresheners, detergents, etc. I try to use everything unscented because the scented products seem to make my allergies worse. We have become obsessed with scented this and scented that. Where ever you go there are air fresheners etc.

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