Messing with the stuffy heads of nation's allergy sufferers

People's Pharmacy

September 16, 1997|By Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. | Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D.,SPECIAL TO THE SUN King Features Syndicate

Drug manufacturers must think allergy victims are dummies. Some of the most ridiculous ads we've ever seen are aimed at hay fever sufferers this fall. For many, the barrage has resulted in amusement and confusion.

Can you surf down a mountain meadow, or windsurf through a wheat field? Then maybe you'll be interested in "Ahhh! Allegra" to help you "get out there" or "really go for it this year." Do you feel that you are chained to a steel tissue box? "Break free from your runny nose," urges the maker of Atrovent nasal spray.

Another nasal spray ad offers a checklist of symptoms: stuffy, sneezy, itchy, runny. Along with a huge nose, the ad proclaims that Flonase "relieves all of your allergy symptoms -- all day and all night."

None of these amazing advertisements are for products consumers can buy off the shelf. All are prescription medicines and require a doctor's visit. This blitz of allergy advertising has created considerable confusion.

When we talked with a woman named Diane recently, she sounded as though she were holding her nose. She admitted she felt miserable, horribly congested and with both ears blocked. And allergy season is likely to last for weeks more.

Diane's job keeps her outdoors much of the time, so she is constantly exposed to the pollen that causes her symptoms. But nonprescription antihistamines make her too drowsy to drive safely.

Diane didn't know whether she should ask her doctor for Allegra, Atrovent Nasal Spray, Claritin, Flonase or Zyrtec. The sheer number of products being advertised overwhelms most people and even some doctors.

Our first recommendation might be for a new over-the-counter nasal spray called Nasalcrom (cromolyn). This anti-inflammatory medication has been available by prescription for many years and only recently has been switched to nonprescription status. It is very safe, stabilizing reactive cells in the nose to keep them from releasing histamine. This means it works best when used preventively.

For people who need additional relief, any of the non-sedating antihistamines can provide substantial benefit. Claritin (loratadine), Hismanal (astemizole) and Allegra (fexofenadine, a refinement of Seldane) are all effective and unlikely to cause drowsiness.

Flonase (fluticasone), and other steroid nasal sprays such as Beconase or Vancenase (beclomethasone), Nasalide (flunisolide) or Rhinocort (budesonide) can also help calm congestion.

Confused consumers need to consult with a good allergy specialist instead of trying to make sense of ridiculous ads.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their latest book is "The People's Pharmacy: Completely New and Revised" (St. Martin's Press).

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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