What Can I Use For My Allergies Without a Prescription?
There are many over-the-counter medications available which can relieve allergy symptoms. Although they are much less expensive than prescription drugs, they can also cause side effects and can interfere with certain disease states, such as asthma, COPD, glaucoma and BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy). Your physician or pharmacist should be consulted prior to taking any medication for your allergies and just because it is available without a prescription does not mean it is right for you. If you experience side effects from over-the-counter allergy medications, your physician can prescribe other drugs that generally cause fewer or none of the side effects. Those drugs are, of course, much more costly, but sometimes worth the cost if they offer relief without harmful side effects. The three basic types of medications used for allergy relief are antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays. Following are general descriptions of the pros and cons of each type of over-the-counter allergy relief.
Antihistamines are highly effective in countering allergic reactions by blocking the action of histamine, which is released when you are exposed to an allergen. They are used to reduce sneezing, a runny nose and itching. They work best if they are taken before being exposed to allergens. Many can cause drowsiness and dry mouth, especially Benadryl® (diphenhydramine). Benadryl® can also be problematic for those patients with enlarged prostates, glaucoma or asthma/COPD. For some people, the side effects will decrease or disappear if they continue to take them regularly for a week or two. Claritin® or Alavert® (loratidine) were originally only available by prescription, but are now over-the-counter and are labeled as non-drowsy, although some people still can experience drowsiness from them.
Decongestants, which can be pills, nose sprays or nose drops, will open nasal passages to improve drainage and reduce the swelling that causes nasal obstruction -- but only temporarily. If allergy sufferers use the nose sprays or drops for more than three days, they can become dependent upon them, a condition known as rebound congestion. Those who use decongestants temporarily to relieve stuffy noses usually report feeling even more congested after they stop. Decongestants act as a stimulant and may elevate blood pressure. They may also make you feel jittery or nervous, so they should be avoided near bedtime as they can keep you up. Common names for decongestants over-the-counter are pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine and oxymetazoline. These ingredients are present in most OTC cough and cold or allergy remedies in some quantity.
There are nasal sprays available that do not contain decongestants. Cromolyn sodium (Nasalcrom®) is an example of a nasal spray that can reduce allergy symptoms by preventing the body's reaction to allergens. It may not start to work for up to a month after patients start using it. Saline nasal sprays are also effective in clearing the sinuses of offending allergens and they help moisturize the nasal cavity, which is especially problematic in dry weather. All of the medications listed above may cause side effects. Many people can use over-the-counter allergy medications and never experience any of the negative side effects, but if you do experience any side effects using allergy relievers, or any other medication, it is always a good idea to check with your physician or pharmacist.
A Message from Your Pharmacist: Medications available over-the-counter are not necessarily the right choice for you to treat seasonal allergy symptoms. Always check with your pharmacist first before initiating an allergy or cold remedy as many of these medicines can interfere with conditions you already have or my interfere with medicines your are already taking. The rule of thumb is, when in doubt, ask your pharmacist because we are here to help you.
Written by: Steven DiLollo, Pharm.D.
Colonia Natural Pharmacy