Allergies need not be fought alone


October 04, 1994|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

Allergies are like Rodney Dangerfield -- they don't get any respect. A heart attack gets everyone's attention. A bad back gets sympathy. Even a toothache may get you time off from work. But if you complain about allergies, most folks are unimpressed.

Nancy was so congested she could barely breathe through her nose. Her eyes were swollen, itching and watering. When the sneezing started it could take half an hour before she recovered. Her boss was only interested in whether her sneezes were catching. If she had a cold he probably would have sent her home till she was no longer contagious. But when he learned her symptoms were due to allergies, he expected her to work overtime to finish an important project.

Other allergy victims know what Nancy is going through. Millions of people are suffering at this time of year because of all the pollen. An especially wet summer led to a bumper crop of ragweed and other offenders.

But who can afford to take allergy season off? People are expected to function despite their misery.

Over-the-counter antihistamines may relieve some of the itching and sneezing, but many people find these medicines make them drowsy, confused, sluggish and inattentive. A reader of this column recently wrote to warn others that such OTC products can be dangerous if you plan to drive or work with machinery. She almost caused a wreck when she fell asleep behind the wheel.

Prescription allergy treatment is more expensive and requires a trip to the doctor, but can make allergy season bearable without drowsiness. Seldane (terfenadine), Hismanal (astemizole) and Claritin (loratadine) have become extremely popular because they provide relief with few side effects.

Dangerous interactions may occur with Seldane and Hismanal, however, so people must check with a pharmacist before taking these pills with any other medicine.

Prescription nasal sprays are another option. Nasalcrom (cromolyn) keeps cells from releasing histamine and is considered a very safe medication. It has to be used frequently, though, and may not provide as much benefit as steroid sprays.

Beconase AQ, Nasalide, Nasacort and Vancenase AQ are quite effective and do not pose the hazards of oral cortisone.

A new long-acting steroid spray, Rhinocort (budesonide), has just become available. It offers physicians another option in the war against allergies.

For people who would rather minimize drug use over the next few weeks, there are some other tricks to try. Keep doors and windows closed. Make sure someone else cuts down ragweed and does the yard chores. A portable high-efficiency (HEPA) air filter can be helpful, as can pollen masks when outdoors. Washing pets to get rid of pollen on their fur is also a good idea.

Since allergy sufferers won't get much sympathy over the next few weeks, they'd better come up with some effective strategies. Fortunately, there are enough alternatives so that nobody needs to be miserable anymore.

Q: What's the difference between Afrin Nose Drops and Afrin Nasal Spray? Is one more likely to be addictive than the other?

A: Both contain oxymetazoline, a vasoconstrictor that shrinks blood vessels.

This makes breathing easier for a while. But if you use either product for more than three days you can suffer rebound nasal congestion when you stop.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert. The People's Pharmacy with Joe and Terry Graedon is a call-in show syndicated to many public radio stations.

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