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NasalCrom (Cromolyn Sodium) Is Surprisingly Helpful for Allergies

Are you sneezing, sniffling and congested? Are allergies making you miserable? Antihistamines and corticosteroids are popular. NasalCrom is another option!
NasalCrom (Cromolyn Sodium) Is Surprisingly Helpful for Alle...
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You’ve probably never heard of NasalCrom nasal spray for allergies. It doesn’t get the kind of attention that many other allergy treatments receive.

There are commercials for antihistamines like Claritin (loratadine) Xyzal (levocetirizine) or Zyrtec (cetirizine). There are also corticosteroid nasal sprays such as Flonase (fluticasone), Nasacort (triamcinolone) and Nasonex (mometasone). The commercials make it seem as if such products are the ideal solution to solving allergy symptoms. Such drugs have their place, but we really like NasalCrom because it is neither an antihistamine nor a steroid. To quote the famous Apple computer ad from decades ago: “Think Different.”

Q. I read in a health newsletter a few years ago that OTC NasalCrom would help allergies. My husband suffered with runny nose and nasal congestion for years.

After using NasalCrom, his allergy totally disappeared. I didn’t have to iron many handkerchiefs after that, so I was delighted!

A. NasalCrom is different from all other allergy medications. It contains cromolyn, which stabilizes the mast cells in the nose responsible for many, if not most, allergy symptoms.

Another reader wondered what her husband could do for his allergies. His throat clearing was driving her crazy:

Q. My 66-year-old husband clears his throat too much. He says he has drainage that has to be cleared in order to breath. He has tried many products and techniques with no relief.

The allergist tested and found the usual culprits: dust mites, ragweed and dogs. I keep the house as free of allergens as possible.

The prescription allergy nose spray didn’t help. Now an ENT doc wants to do an invasive test for GERD. That doesn’t make sense to me. We’d appreciate a solution.

A. We heard recently from a man whose wife had somewhat similar symptoms:

“She has long bouts of coughing due to congestive heart failure and allergies that cause a lot of sinus drainage. The trouble is she reacts badly to most antihistamines. What can we try?”

We mentioned NasalCrom (cromolyn). This OTC nose spray is used preventively and reduces the inflammatory response to allergens.

Later, we heard back from him:

“NasalCrom had a prompt effect. The postnasal drainage is significantly reduced. Her cough gradually improved and then dramatically disappeared. Her cardiac rehab is going well, with attention to exercise, diet and sleep.”

Mast Cells Cause a LOT of Mischief:

Mast cells are found in your eyes, nose and lungs (and other places in your body) that are highly sensitive to allergens.

Think of mast cells as floating mines. When they come into contact with allergens like ragweed pollen or dust mite poop, a switch gets thrown on these cellular “mines” and all hell breaks loose.

Mast cells start releasing histamine and other chemicals called kinins (pronounced KYE-nins), which then turn on a cascade of other nasty things like leukotrienes and prostaglandins. The end result is sneezing, itching, inflammation, and congestion.

Stabilizing Mast Cells:

If you can stabilize mast cells and make them less sensitive to allergens they appear to be less likely to trigger the release of all those nasty chemicals described above. That way you can prevent symptoms at the source of the problem.

We think such an approach may be more logical than trying to block the effect of histamine with antihistamines. And we think it is safer that squirting steroids in your nose on a regular basis. Some of the corticosteroid is absorbed into your body.

Shutting the Barn Door BEFORE the Horses get Out:

Think of it this way. If your mast cells are like a barn holding in a bunch of wild horses (histamine molecules), then what would be more efficient–reinforcing the door and walls of the barn to keep those wild histamines inside or trying to protect all the grass in your pasture from having those histamine “horses” nibbling away at it?

Antihistamines are like a chemical barrier that tries to protect your grass once the horses are out of the barn. But they are not 100 percent efficient, and some histamine will always find a target and wreak havoc. Keeping the barn closed tightly (or the mast cells stabilized) seems to us to be a more effective approach.

Nasalcrom to the Rescue:

Cromolyn (NasalCrom) was first introduced as a prescription product in 1983. NasalCrom went over the counter in 1997. Cromolyn, the active ingredient in NasalCrom, was originally derived from an herb, the fruit of bishop’s weed (Ammi visnaga), which was traditionally used to treat asthma.

The compound cromolyn stabilizes highly sensitive mast cells in the lining of the nose and lungs so they can better resist the onslaught of pollen. It won’t cause drowsiness or cognitive impairment and, if used regularly, it is quite effective. It can be taken for up to twelve weeks. Unlike decongestant nose sprays, there is no need to fear developing dependency.

Side Effects of NasalCrom:

Cromolyn is very safe and does not cause drowsiness or rebound nasal congestion the way OTC nasal decongestants can. Some people may experience temporary sneezing, nasal burning, or a bad taste in their mouth. You can read more about the long-term use of cromolyn at this link

Downside:

You must use NasalCrom at least four times a day to really benefit. Some experts believe it is less effective than intranasal corticosteroids. We suggest that it is safer and worth a try if you are the kind of person who can spritz your nostrils three to four times daily on a regular basis.

Share your own experience with cromolyn below in the comment section. You may want to listen to our podcast about allergies with Dr. David Peden and Dr. Tieraona Low Dog. They offer practical information and nondrug options for controlling symptoms. Here is a link to managing the misery of allergies

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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