Breathing is basic. Most of the time we take it for granted. But if your nose is congested and your sinuses are stopped up, you are miserable. For one thing, your head feels as if it’s full of cotton. Studies have found that people suffering from allergies frequently experience sleep difficulties, fatigue, poor concentration, drowsiness, irritability, delayed reaction times, memory problems, and cognitive impairment.19 When you are in the middle of an allergy attack it is hard to drive safely even if you are not sneezing. Making decisions or operating other kinds of machinery can also be problematic.
Paradoxically, although antihistamines are the mainstay of allergy treatment, they can also cause drowsiness, delayed reaction times, sedation, and cognitive impairment. Even the so-called second-generation nonsedating antihistamines that are so heavily advertised to consumers may not be as benign as drug companies would have you believe.20 When given in doses that are adequate to relieve symptoms, some of these nonsedating antihistamines may also make people drowsy and impair performance.
Research has shown that driving skills are affected with both the 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.
Physicians often think of allergies as more of a 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.24 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 so scary about these statistics is that they keep going up. No one knows why, but it appears that more people are suffering than ever before.
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 approach 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. Generic loratadine (Claritin) is now available without a prescription.
  • Among prescription allergy medicines, steroid nasal sprays offer the most effective symptom relief with a minimum of side effects. The cost is significant, since they are available only by prescription. One generic variety (flunisolide) is less expensive than brand-name products like Flonase and Rhinocort AQ.
  • Pseudoephedrine can be surprisingly effective at controlling allergy symptoms. Beware of side effects such as insomnia, nervousness, high blood pressure, and irregular heart rhythms.

Join Over 130,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

Each week we send two free email newsletters with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show. Join our mailing list and get the information you need to make confident choices about your health.

  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.

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.