This spring has been especially heartening. We went from a really hard winter to a time of renewal. Watching everything turn green has given a lot of people hope for the future. But for tens of millions of allergy victims, spring brings suffering. Drug companies promise a lot, but there are hidden problems. Why not overcome spring allergy symptoms without the pitfalls.
COVID or Allergies?
A lot of people worry if they start to sneeze or cough. Could it be COVID-19? One of the most critical differences is fever. Allergies don’t elevate your temperature. COVID can. If your eyes and nose are itching, chances are you have allergies. Some people also experience itching in their ears or throat. Watery eyes and sneezing are also more common with allergies than with COVID. Muscle aches are not linked to allergies but are common with COVID.
Antihistamines for Spring Allergy Symptoms?
Many people treat their spring allergy symptoms with antihistamines. Americans love pills, so this seems like a quick and easy solution to sneezing and itchy eyes.
One of the oldest and most effective is diphenhydramine (Benadryl). It works well against a range of allergic conditions, but it does have one significant drawback. Most people find it makes them sluggish, drowsy and mentally slow. If I take this antihistamine I better not drive or operate machinery. And I better not attempt to do anything that requires mental alertness. It really knocks me out!
That’s why diphenhydramine (DPH) is the main ingredient in many over-the-counter sleep aids. It’s the “PM” in most bedtime pain relievers. Although occasional use of DPH is probably low-risk, we do worry about long-term brain impact.
Diphenhydramine has strong anticholinergic activity. That means it interferes with the action of the neurochemical acetylcholine. You can learn more about this essential brain chemical and how common drugs like DPH can create cognitive problems at this link.
Common Medicines Throw a Monkey Wrench Into Mental Machinery and Memory
Common medications, both OTC and prescription can contribute to memory problems and confusion. Is someone you love taking an anticholinergic drug?
A review of “Diphenhydramine Toxicity” was published in StatPearts, Feb. 3, 2021.
“Diphenhydramine is a first-generation antihistamine with anticholinergic and sedative properties. It is most commonly used for the treatment of nausea, vomiting, allergic rhinitis, mild to severe allergic reactions (e.g., anaphylaxis), and as a mild sleep aid. While used for a wide array of medical indications, diphenhydramine is also one of the most commonly abused medications in the United States (U.S.).”
“Due to its effects on muscarinic receptors, diphenhydramine can produce anticholinergic effects, such as blurred vision, dry mouth, urinary retention, impotence, tachycardia, and gastrointestinal effects, such as nausea and constipation.”
Second-generation antihistamines are less sedating. They include drugs such as cetirizine (Zyrtec), desloratadine (Clarinex), fexofenadine (Allegra), levocetirizine (Xyzal) and loratadine (Claritin).
There is one little-recognized complication from a few of these medications. We have heard from hundreds of readers that after taking the antihistamine for an extended period of time, stopping suddenly triggers unbearable itching. It took the FDA years to acknowledge this withdrawal effect (Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety, July 5, 2019).
What Is Antihistamine Withdrawal Like?
It is hard to describe the intense itching that some readers have reported when they discontinue drugs like cetirizine or levocetirizine.
Here is just such an account from Suzanne:
“My doctor put me on Zyrtec about five years ago for itching. One vacation I forgot to take it for three days—and experienced terrible, incessant itching. Within 10 minutes of taking a tablet I was fine. I talked to her about it and she acted like I was insane.
“I later found an article about the itching and took it to her. I decided to take myself off the drug by taking less and less ever so slowly. I started with 3/4 of a tablet for several months, then 1/2 for several months more, then 1/4 for several months more. I have been weaning myself off for about nine months! Two days ago was my 1/4 last pill, Within 24 hours the itching started. Right now I am itching like crazy; today I am calling my doc to see if she will give me anything for it. I am determined not to ever take cetirizine drug again.”
Donna shared this:
“I’ve been taking Zyrtec for years, since it first hit the market, for allergies. I thought it was a a great blessing. My sneezing, runny nose, tearing eyes and other symptoms literally disappeared without drowsiness.
“Then the dry skin, mouth, and overall dehydration led me to try to stop it. I went 1 day, and the itching was so unbearable I thought I’d lose my mind. I went back on it and did some research about withdrawal symptoms. I decided to go ahead and try to wean down slowly. I have been on 1/2 a tablet for several months, and while I don’t have such severe itching I still experience some with no apparent reason. My clothing even irritates my skin.
“Physicians need to research the drugs they prescribe before doing so. Then maybe their 15-minute visits would be 30 minutes to an hour, and we’d have fewer drug interactions and more overall wellness. How many drug side effects are being treated with additional drugs.”
Steroid Nasal Sprays for Spring Allergy Symptoms:
Allergists have known for decades that cortisone and other corticosteroids such as prednisone can damp down on overactive immune system. Doing so also calms allergy symptoms extremely well.
But oral steroids have lots of serious side effects. Few physicians prescribe such drugs for spring allergy symptoms. That’s where topical corticosteroids come in.
Doctors used to prescribe steroid nasal sprays for spring allergy symptoms. Now, drugs like budesonide (Rhinocort), fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24 Hour) are available without a prescription.
Concerns about long term use revolve around systemic absorption. Side effects may include an increased risk of glaucoma, nosebleeds, disturbances in smell and taste, headache and breathing difficulty.
Other Ways to Solve Spring Allergy Symptoms:
So, what else can people with allergies do? An old-fashioned remedy that has mostly disappeared from professional lists of recommendations is cromolyn (NasalCrom).
This medication was derived from the plant bishop’s weed (Ammi visnaga) and was originally developed for asthma. It stabilizes mast cells in the nose.
That makes them less likely to react to allergens and release histamine and other irritating chemicals. The nasal spray does have to be used preventively. That means spritzing a couple of times a day, starting before allergy season gets bad.
One reader shared this experience:
“I’ve been using NasalCrom very successfully for a few years now, ever since my pharmacist recommended it. This affordable spray clears up my spring and fall allergies with one spritz a day in the morning. The trick is to start it before the season begins.”
Learn more about NasalCrom at this link.
Quercetin for Spring Allergy Symptoms:
Another natural option is the flavonoid quercetin. This compound is found in many fruits and vegetables. As a dietary supplement, it has anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, antioxidant and immunomodulatory activity (Allergy, Asthma, and Clinical Immunology, May 14, 2020).
Judy shares this about quercetin vs. NasalCrom:
“After I read an article in the People’s Pharmacy about NasalCrom several years ago, I started using it regularly. It completely stopped my allergic symptoms from pollen which I had had for over 50 years. It was miraculous. After my first use of it for a couple of weeks in the middle of allergy season I needed only two sprays a day.
“About two years ago I started taking quercetin as an antioxidant. Then I read that it has the same effect on mast cells as NasalCrom so I stopped taking NasalCrom and my allergies didn’t come back. So, I highly recommend both things, whichever is convenient. I do slightly prefer taking pills to putting a spray nozzle up my nose.”
Soothing Spring Allergy Symptoms:
There are enough allergy tools in the toolkit to make this time of year livable even for the most sensitive. Finding the one that works the best with the fewest side effects may take some experimentation.
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