With OTC Meds
Do I Need to See
Allergies are very common, but not quite as common as people think. About 50% of people will allergy test positive to one or more agents, but only about 20% of people have nasal symptoms related to allergic rhinitis. If you have a cold, and you treat is as if it is an allergy attack, (this is the most common error I see), you will not have good success.
There are several good OTC medicines that can be tried for nasal allergy, but unfortunately, the safest and most effective medicines are prescription. Ill discuss these also, because you may be able to find a simple way to acquire these safe prescription medicines that really should be available OTC.
- Standard Antihistamines
It is common for people to confuse antihistamines and decongestants. Antihistamines specifically block a part of the allergic pathway, decongestants nonspecifically open nasal passages regardless of the cause. To keep it simple, the over the counter antihistamine to try first is clemastine fumarate. This is the ingredient in Tavist. This medicine is more effective than newer, more expensive prescription antihistamines, but it has the common side effect of making some people sleepy and causing dry mouth. This drying side-effect can also be put to use during a cold to stop the runny nose.
- "Second Generation" Antihistamines
We now have the ingredient in Claritin available OTC, loratidine. This antihistamine often works well, and has the benefits of being once a day and having no side effects. It has the negatives of being a bit more expensive, and quite a bit less effective in relieving symptoms. Get the generic and give it a try, if it helps, it can be a really good medicine with no side effects or drug interactions.
- Chromolyn Sodium Nasal Spray
This is currently (2005) the only OTC spray that has benefits for the underlying allergic reaction. It is very safe, and has no side effects. It must be used before exposure to the allergen, and is best to use it consistently for a week or so before drawing any conclusions about its effectiveness. It has the negative of being fairly mild and not always controlling all of the symptoms, but sometimes it works wonders. You can not become "addicted" to this type of nasal spray.
- Prescription Steroid Nasal Sprays
So why include this in the OTC section? Well, because this category is OTC in other countries, and is fairly easy to obtain by mail order (you're on your own on this one however). It will likely be made available OTC in the U.S. soon. These sprays are not the type you can become "addicted" to. Steroid nasal sprays are the single most important medicine for treating nasal allergies. They are more effective than antihistamines at relieving congestion. They are generally free of side effects, and are thought to be safe even for long term use. The newer generation of sprays are preferred because they are not absorbed into the system to any degree. The older versions are absorbed to some degree creating some potential for long term side effects. Fluticasone (Flonase), mometaside (Nasonex), budesonide (Rhinocort), and triamcinolone (Nasacort AQ) are the versions to look for. They are all equally effective.
Some allergies are of sudden onset and brief duration. The most common example is called "hay fever". This can be from pollen blooms, or from large exposures to mold spores or dust mites. In such cases, it can be helpful to just treat the symptoms. Decongestants and decongestant sprays are helpful here to open up a congested nasal passage. Antihistamines are also helpful here, they work quickly and will also help the itch eye sensation and the scratchy throat associated with acute allergies.
Treating a Cold
With OTC Meds
With OTC Meds
Problems with OTC