Allergy medicines are far improved, but use caution


April 18, 1995|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

Most people look forward to spring. Those with wintertime blues love the extra sunlight and warm weather. Nature enthusiasts appreciate the blossoms and the birds. But millions of allergy victims dread the pollen, the itchy eyes, sniffles and sneezes.

Spring allergies can be as tough as hay fever. Grasses and trees produce quantities of pollen that provoke symptoms in susceptible people.

Dave awakes stuffed up and sniffles his way through breakfast. Driving to work is dangerous as he has to time his sneezes so as not to run off the road or hit other cars. Over-the-counter allergy medicine makes him groggy and worthless at work.

Fortunately, there are now so many new options for allergy sufferers that driving and working don't have to be hazardous. Prescription nasal sprays and non-sedating antihistamines have revolutionized allergy treatment.

Seldane (terfenadine) started the trend and rapidly became one of the most popular prescription drugs on the market. It was later joined by Hismanal (astemizole) and Claritin (loratadine). Now the FDA has given the green light to Reactine (cetirizine), a low-sedating antihistamine that will be prescribed for allergies and hives.

As helpful as these oral medications can be, there are cautions, especially for Seldane and Hismanal. High doses of these drugs may trigger a potentially lethal change in heart rhythm, and unfortunately, several other medicines can interact with Seldane or Hismanal to raise blood levels and increase the danger. The antibiotics erythromycin and Biaxin and the anti-fungals Diflucan, Nizoral and Sporanox should not be taken with these antihistamines.

Cromolyn, in the prescription nose spray Nasalcrom, can help prevent problems like Dave's sniffles and sneezes. It keeps nasal tissues from overreacting to allergens.

Steroid nasal sprays have also contributed to more effective allergy treatment.

In addition to older products such as beclomethasone (Beconase, Vancenase) and flunisolide (Nasalide), there are now some longer-acting, newer sprays such as fluticasone (Flonase) and budesonide (Rhinocort). These reduce the inflammation associated with allergies and alleviate the symptoms of congestion and sneezing.

Although steroid sprays are far less likely to cause the serious side effects seen with oral cortisone, such drugs can be abused. People who exceed the recommended dose may experience steroid complications. Other side effects can include nasal irritation, sore throat, nosebleeds and headache.

In addition to medication, allergy victims should protect themselves from pollen whenever possible. Wearing dust masks when working outdoors, changing high-efficiency air filters in the house, and dusting frequently with a damp cloth can ease symptoms and make spring enjoyable again.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Dr. Teresa Graedon is a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert.

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