Allergy season is here. Even if you did not realize that, the warring drug commercials on television should have alerted you. On the same program you can see ads for Xyzal, Allegra and Nasacort. There are also spots for Flonase and Claritin-D. What’s the best way to treat seasonal allergies? Are there any natural approaches that make sense?
Competing Drug Commercials Confuse Us:
Drug companies are competing in part on how many symptoms the product relieves. Some brag that they can ease sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy eyes and a runny nose.
Others claim their product manages even more symptoms. In addition to the usual sneezing and drippy nose, an added oral decongestant is supposed to alleviate sinus congestion and pressure. What they may not emphasize is that oral decongestants can raise blood pressure.
Three Drug Categories:
Regardless of how many symptoms the ad agencies are crowing about, allergy products fall into just a few categories. Most of the advertised products were once available by prescription only.
Corticosteroids to Treat Seasonal Allergies?
Corticosteroid nasal sprays such as fluticasone (Flonase Sensimist) and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24HR) are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs. Such corticosteroids can calm an overactive immune response to a wide range of allergens. Many people report excellent symptom control with such products.
A Scary Side of Steroids:
On the other hand, they may dampen the immune system’s reaction to infections. That is why the drug facts labels on packages warn:
“Stop use and ask a doctor if you have, or come into contact with someone who has, chickenpox, measles or tuberculosis.”
In the case of infections, people need to have their immune systems functioning at full power.
People may not always be able to distinguish allergy symptoms like runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion from an upper respiratory tract infection. That is why the label warns customers to stop use and see a doctor if symptoms don’t improve within a week. Steroid nasal sprays may also cause change in vision or severe or frequent nosebleeds.
Steroid Stories from Readers:
Some people report pretty serious complications from regular use of steroid nasal sprays.
Gordon in Minnesota lost his sense of smell:
“I used Flonase for allergy years ago. I lost the sense of smell permanently. I couldn’t even smell geysers in Yellow Stone National Park!”
Dawn in Florida had a similar reaction:
“I lost my sense of smell from Flonase and the generic form. I’m so upset! It also impaired my taste. This isn’t right. I can’t smell anything. If there was a gas leak or a fire it wouldn’t be good.”
Jeanne had another complication:
“In addition to loss of sense of smell, after having used fluticasone for a number of years, I developed a hole in the cartilage between my nasal passages. After seeing my second ENT, he agreed that it was more than likely the Flonase/fluticasone that caused the problem.
“I have trouble breathing. I use a nasal gel, and have difficulty sleeping. I have sores in my nose, and much crusting, which feels like razor blades in my nose. My quality of life has been greatly diminished.”
You can learn more about steroid nasal sprays at this link:
Antihistamines to Treat Seasonal Allergies?
Antihistamines work differently. They literally block the effect of histamine. That is an inflammatory chemical released when cells in the nose are challenged by allergens like pollen, cat dander or dust mites.
Old-fashioned antihistamines like diphenhydramine (DPH or Benadryl) are effective at easing some allergy symptoms, but they make many people drowsy. Non-sedating antihistamines such as levocetirizine (Xyzal) and fexofenadine (Allegra) are less likely to affect driving ability compared to diphenhydramine (Human Psychopharmacology, May, 2016).
Cromolyn to Treat Seasonal Allergies?
One drug you probably won’t see advertised on television this allergy season is cromolyn (NasalCrom). This unique allergy medicine does not seem to have a big advertising budget.
Learn more at this link:
Cromolyn works by stabilizing mast cells in the nose, eyes and lungs. These cells contain histamine as well as other inflammatory chemicals called kinins.
Regular use of cromolyn makes mast cells less likely to react to allergens. However, NasalCrom spray has to be used a couple of times daily to produce benefit. That’s inconvenient for some people.
Reports from Readers:
Here are some reports from readers who found this medication both safe and effective:
“NasalCrom has been a lifesaver for me. My allergies are under control for the first time in years!”
“NasalCrom actually works better for me than the allergy pills that cause side effects. It gets a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations, and I think that’s why we don’t see a huge advertising budget for it.”
Marilyn in Florida shares:
“My husband had chronic rhinitis for over 20 yrs. Doctors prescribed antihistamines and steroid nasal inhalers with no relief. He started using Nasalcrom and all allergies are gone. Only to start sneezing and dripping nose if he forgets to use it. This has been a blessing since it was driving me crazy because he was constantly sneezing and blowing his nose especially after getting out of bed in the morning.”
Other Natural Ways to Treat Seasonal Allergies:
Although cromolyn is a drug, it was originally derived from Bishops weed (Ammi visnaga). So in one sense, this medication to treat seasonal allergies has had a long natural history of treating respiratory symptoms.
We have long advocated for vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to ease allergy symptoms. Although there have been few well-conducted clinical trials of vitamin C, there is some research to suggest that ascorbic acid might have some antihistaminic activity. Vitamin C may also modulate an over-active immune system.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica):
Physicians in Europe are often more open minded about herbal treatments than their U.S. counterparts. Urtica dioica has been prescribed there for a long time to treat allergies. One double-blind trial reported that 57 percent of the participants had good relief of symptoms (Planta Medica, Feb. 1990).
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) to treat Seasonal Allergies:
Another interesting allergy treatment involves the herb butterbur. This botanical medicine has been used to treat symptoms of migraine headaches, asthma, and allergy. It has anti-inflammatory activity and blocks the formation of compounds called leukotrienes (pronounced lew-co-TRY-eens).
These rascals cause all sorts of mischief in the nose, including itching, sneezing, swelling, and congestion. In some respects, leukotrienes may be even more of a problem than histamine. Leukotrienes contribute to the inflammatory cascade that underlies both allergy and asthma. The prescription asthma and allergy drug Singulair (montelukast) also works by inhibiting leukotriene formation.
Swiss researchers compared butterbur with the antihistamine cetirizine (Zyrtec) in a randomized, double-blind study. They found that both products were equally effective at controlling symptoms, but butterbur was significantly less sedating than Zyrtec (BMJ, Jan 19, 2002).
People’s Pharmacy Perspective:
Finding the best allergy treatment for you this season might require some trial and error. Don’t be swayed by slick commercials.
You may also find this article of interest:
Share Your Own Story:
What works for you to treat seasonal allergies? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.