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

Allergy season takes a terrible toll on people who are susceptible to pollen. This is the time of year when invisible particles in the air trigger sneezing, sniffling, itching and congestion. Allergy symptoms can also trigger a cascade of other problems.

When you can’t breathe normally, you may have trouble sleeping. When you can’t get a decent night’s sleep you can have trouble concentrating. You might also suffer from fatigue, irritability and drowsiness. Many allergy victims often feel spaced out and less alert. Delayed reaction times can interfere with driving ability (Vuurman et al, Allergy, July, 2014).

When you are in the middle of an allergy attack, it’s hard to drive safely even if you are not sneezing. Your eyes are red and irritated. Your head feels like it is stuffed with cotton. It’s damn hard to focus when you are so spaced out.

Allergy Drugs Offer Other Dangers:

Unfortunately, some of the drugs that people take to manage allergy symptoms may also cause cognitive impairment. Old-fashioned antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) and hydroxyzine (Atarax) often lead to drowsiness and may interfere with driving performance (Banerji et al, Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, July-Aug. 2007).

Even some of the so-called second-generation non sedating antihistamines may not be as benign as drug companies would have you believe (Bender, Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America, May, 2005).

Brain Fog?

A rarely mentioned concern with old-fashioned oral antihistamines is the anticholinergic effect. Research has shown that people who regularly rely on such drugs may experience negative changes in brain physiology (Risacher et al, JAMA Neurology, June, 2016). There is growing concern that long-term use of anticholinergic drugs may increase the risk of dementia.

Learn more about this potential problem at this link:

Are There Any Allergy Remedies That Won’t Harm Your Brain?

Stopping Some Antihistamines May Be Challenging

Here is a complication of some oral antihistamines that has not been widely recognized. We have heard from visitors to this website that suddenly stopping antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec) or levocetirizine (Xyzal) can sometimes precipitate intense itching. Here are just a few stories from people who posted to this website:

Mary in Colorado reported:

“I’ve been taking Zyrtec and its generic equivalent (cetirizine) for about 10 years. About 4 years ago, I had my first itching attack when I forgot to take it for a couple of days. The itching was so bad, I was scratching my skin raw! I was to the point of wanting to rip the flesh off my bones! I kid you not! It happened again but not as bad.

“I just started itching the other day and googled it and ran across all these threads. I started weaning off it and then decided to just go off it and use Allegra. Nope! After 2 days I started itching like crazy this morning! I took one cetirizine and will start the long process of weaning off again. Now if the cetirizine would just kick in and the itching would STOP. Oh by the way I also have had a lot of weight gain and developed tinnitus…. hmmmm, makes you wonder.”

Sabrin in Pennsylvania reacted to Xyzal:

“I thought I was nuts. I have tried to stop taking Xyzal after taking it for years. Every time I try to stop taking it I itch like crazy, breaking out in hives when I never did before.”

“I am petite and have gained over 15 pounds since I have been on the medicine. It has been steady weight gain over the years and I really believe it’s from this medicine. Is there any way to ever be free of taking this medicine? Every time I try to stop I feel like I can’t live without it. HELP!”

Stephanie in Los Angeles has a tale of woe and intrigue:

“I too have had withdrawal symptoms from Zyrtec. In the past I have taken Zyrtec for seasonal allergies for a day or two, maybe using a total of 4 pills a year.

Last year out of the blue I had really bad itching. A single Zyrtec got rid of the itch and all was good. I took it for about a week or two straight but every time I would go off, the itching would come back. Puzzled, I wondered if it was my soap – detergent – something I ate – something in the air. I really had no idea. With the holidays and things being so busy, I hoped it would go away… but it didn’t.

“Every few days I would wait for the pill to wear off so I could see if I was better. Every time this intense itching would come back, worse than the last time.

“Finally in January I went to the doctor. She said the same thing-most likely environmental. She told me to take Zyrtec 2 times a day for a month and then see if the itching goes away. I only took 1 pill every other day. Why? Because by now I knew that by day 3 the itch would return.

“I just knew I had to quit cold turkey. That lasted about 4 days. The 3rd day the itch kicked in and by the next day I thought I was going to die. I gave in and took a pill. It went like this for months. I would try to stop but I never made it very long. It was the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced. Like bugs under your skin and when you scratched, it never fixed the problem. It only made it hurt and itch at the same time. I would get raised marks where I scratched and I looked like I got clawed by an animal.

“Finally I decided that what I was doing wasn’t working, so I needed to try something else. I read that someone stepped down slowly, so I thought I’d try that. On day 3 when I got itchy again, instead of taking a whole pill, I took half. The itch went away. To my surprise I was still able to go almost 3 days again on that half pill and I forced myself to make it to the end of day 3 before giving in. I did this for a few weeks. Then I tried to go a little longer… 4 days then 5… Until I made it up to a week. All still on a half pill.

“Once I got to a week, I waited another few weeks before doing the next phase: switching to Claritin. I began taking a half pill of Claritin which only got me through 3 days tops. Eventually I was down to a half pill every week. Then I switched to a quarter pill. I was able to go about 5 or 6 days before the symptoms returned. Some weeks were better than others and some weeks I needed another quarter after 4 days. It was totally random. It was like my body didn’t know what to do.

“Finally I tried going off completely and if I began to itch I’d take a few crumbs of a pill – I did this maybe 3 or 4 times until I woke up yesterday wondering when the last time I took a pill was. I’m not exactly sure but I think it’s been about two and a half weeks! I get some mild itching almost every night but nothing bad and I put peppermint and tee tree oil on it and it takes some of the itch out. When I wake up, the itch isn’t there. I am keeping it up and hopefully the minimal itch will disappear and I can go back to normal. It’s been almost a full nightmare year, but hang in there, you can do this!”

Decongestants Create Other Problems:

Some people take oral decongestant pills to ease their nasal congestion and help with their allergy symptoms. Oral decongestants can raise blood pressure and make urination difficult, especially for men with enlarged prostates.

To avoid the difficulties of oral decongestants, some allergy sufferers turn to topical decongestants. Such nasal sprays shrink blood vessels and make it easier to breathe. But these decongestant nasal sprays are to be used for only three days at a time. Allergy symptoms usually last much longer than that.

Overuse of Decongestant Nose Sprays Leads to Rebound of Allergy Symptoms:

What happens if you keep spritzing your congested nostrils throughout the entire time that pollen is causing trouble? Frequently, overusing such a nasal spray leads to rebound congestion. We can’t count the number of people who have sheepishly admitted that they became “addicted” to their nose sprays. Whenever they stopped using the sprays, they became horribly congested. So they kept on spraying, sometimes for months or years.

Breaking free of reliance on nasal spray requires a sound strategy and a lot of patience. Here is what one reader tried:

“I got away from OTC vasoconstrictor nasal sprays that cause almost unbearable rebound congestion by asking my physician to prescribe a steroid nasal spray such as fluticasone (generic Flonase).

“It took a couple days to start to work, at which point I dropped the Afrin. There was still some rebound congestion, but by then the steroid made the rebound much more bearable.

“After about a week off the Afrin, I dropped the steroid spray. It didn’t fix the original problem, but it got me off the Afrin. I keep some fluticasone around for when I have severe nasal congestion and now use that instead of something like Afrin.”

Overcoming Decongestant Nasal Spray Addiction:

Some people find it helpful to tackle one nostril at a time with a steroid spray. Other allergy sufferers turn to saline solution. This reader reports:

“For years I have used Ocean [saline spray] for nasal congestion with good results and no adverse effects.”

Another reader found a similar solution to an ongoing allergy problem:

“Allergies run in my family. Dad used Afrin every four hours, and it looked like I’d be in the same fix. Almost every year, I’d have miserable hay fever in late summer that would progress to a nasty cough in the fall that would go on to bronchitis.

“I started using Xlear nasal spray (saline with grapefruit seed extract and xylitol) about ten years ago. My hay fever became less severe.

“Adding a neti pot to rinse my nasal passages with saline solution made a difference. Although I still have some congestion and drainage, I have not developed a cough and I can breathe through my nose!”

These readers found ways to handle their seasonal allergy symptoms that didn’t create ongoing problems. Saline sprays and rinses or steroid nose drops can help ease allergies without leading to traffic accidents or nose spray dependence.

Alternative Treatments for Allergy Symptoms:

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica)

A natural approach to allergies involves stinging nettle (Urtica dioica). This herb is well known in Europe, where it is used primarily to ease allergy symptoms. The usual dose is 300 mg for freeze-dried Urtica dioica daily. Some people report digestive upset with stinging nettle. Do not take it on an empty stomach. Others report an allergic rash. Stop this herb immediately if that occurs.

Diana says:

“I have had tremendous success in nearly eliminating seasonal allergies with the supplement, stinging nettle leaf. For years, I took Zyrtec or Claritin, thinking those were my only options. Because of the dry eyes side effect, I discontinued those. For three seasons now, I have had success with the stinging nettle. It even helps minimize my allergic reaction to perfumes. Recently, I heard that having some local honey is helpful, so I have that once a day with herbal tea.”

Stephanie in Colorado reports:

“About 30 years ago I had allergies and asthma. I took two stinging nettle capsules twice per day for three months and my allergies and asthma were gone. So I made sure I never skipped taking my vitamins/minerals and antioxidants. I still am allergy free at 67 years old.”

Cindy in California shared this:

“Stinging nettle {I use capsules} works for me. I work outside and am often immersed in pollen. It works for my 101 year old mother-in-law. Her constant post-nasal drip has ceased. Her caregiver asked me to get her a bottle because she noticed the improvement.”

Bishop’s Weed or NasalCrom (Cromolyn)

Another option is a nasal spray that is neither a corticosteroid nor a decongestant. Bishop’s weed (Ammi visnaga) or Ajawayan has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for a long time. Cooks in India have used the spice in cooking, especially to ease digestive distress and relieve intestinal gas. It has historically been used to treat asthma symptoms.

The medication cromolyn sodium was derived from this plant. It was originally used as an inhaler to treat asthma symptoms. Cromolyn was first sold as a prescription allergy treatment in 1997. NasalCrom went OTC in 1997. Learn more about this approach at this link:

NasalCrom (Cromolyn Sodium) Is Surprisingly Helpful for Allergies

Dave in Reidsville, NC says:

“NasalCrom WORKS! The down side of it is actually an upside. Using it conveniently 4 times a day provides rinsing, nasal moisture AND mast cell control. I have used it for several years when first signs of nasal allergy symptoms come along. It also avoids the almost inevitable nasal tissue rebound I get from a product like Afrin.

“Another really helpful, extended use, maintenance, nasal spray is, in my experience, Xlear. It too rinses / moisturizes and, in my experience, promotes sinus and ear drainage. It can be used along with other nasal treatments. The X refers to XYLITOL which, in chewing gum, has been reported to help children with clearance of mucous in the ears.

“With NasalCrom and Xlear I have dropped all but rare use of regular allergy capsules.”

Share your own allergy experience in the comment section below.

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  1. Carol

    I have used Neil med sinus rinse every morning for about 7 years. It solves most of my allergy symptoms except certain times of the year I experience problems with sneezing and a lot mucus production in sinuses. I used Nasalcrom this spring and I think it helped. I am going to try using it again next year before I start having those problems.

  2. Theresa

    Try local,raw honey.I was developing worsening hay fever with each passing spring. I can’t take antihistamines as they make me too drowsy to function. I also wear contacts so the itching, watery symptoms interferes with my vision. I was a mess. Then a friend reminds me to use local honey and since doing so,I no longer have hay fever. Maybe a sinus pressure headache when the fronts come in but not symptoms of hay fever what so ever. It’s pricey but worth its weight in gold to me.

  3. Carl

    I too started using Nasalcrom after your April article and have found it has virtually relieved the itching, sneezing and runny nose problems – say 98%. I moved to Florida several years ago and have suffered long because the pollen never seems to stop here. I used Nasacort a few years ago for 4 days and it literally ruined my sense of taste and smell. If anything, Nasalcrom seems to be improving that problem a little bit. Very pleased with it.

  4. Don

    For me, and for many others, I suspect, the root cause of my allergy problem was soda. As a teen, I drank coke every day all day long. My symptoms started with itching eyes which led to sinus problems and nasal drainage. An allergy doctor told me to stop using anything with caffeine in it. It took years of suffering even after I stopped drinking soda and eventually being introduced to Nasalcrom before I found relief. I know soda was the cause because about 20 years after I stopped drinking it, I started using it again for a short time. My eyes once again started itching. Fortunately, the itching stopped shortly after I cut out soda.

  5. Linda

    I have suffered from allergies my whole life. They have me taking zertec twice a day singular at night and Asteline twice a day I started about 8 months ago and feel like I’m losing my mind I have brain fog all the time have been depressed I take no other Medes so I’m pretty sure it’s the allergy drugs I plan on slowly stopping and slowly trying some of the suggested remedies. Thanks!

  6. Shirley
    West Virginia

    Several years ago I was introduced to Sambucol, a black elderberry extract, to be used at the onset of cold or flu. I have since found that it is also extremely effective for spring and fall allergy symptoms. Since it is a natural substance (which comes in either tablet or syrup), I can dissolve one tablet on my tongue (read the instructions) at the onset of allergy symptoms, and a followup tablet as soon as I feel them returning, which may take 2-3 tablets over a period of of 5-6 hours. That usually stops the runny nose, itchy eyes and scratchy throat for several days.

    After that one tablet daily as long as symptoms last usually does the trick for me. I am a firm believer in Sambucol! It truly works! I have ready way too many horror stories about OTC remedies for allergies. These substances seem to enslave us to the pharmaceutical companies and may destroy our health!

  7. Hank

    If you want a non-drug remedy for sinus allergy, try NeilMed sinus rinse. It flushes out the pollen and whatnot with a saline solution.

    It comes with pre-mixed packets. You pour it into the squirt bottle, add warm water, and it is ready to use.

    It may sound gross. But it works great. It also helps to lessen the congestion of colds.

    All the pharmacies here seem to have it, and some grocery stores as well.

  8. A.X.

    Neti pot!! Get distilled water and the premixed packets of the saline mix from Neil Med. You’ll literally be washing away irritants in your nasal passages. Do it more than once a day if you need to. No drugs, pretty cheap.

  9. NANCY
    Cleburne, TX

    Have started using NasalCrom, with great results, due to your earlier article (April 11,2017) about it. N M.

  10. Daryl

    I suffer mightily on a year round basis from allergies and have not found anything that works on a consistent basis. This has led to a chronic sinus issue. So, I will try anything.

  11. bobby

    There are many remedies for alergies

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