We’ve spoken a lot about allergic rhinitis, and for good reason! With the spike in symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, itchy throat, headaches, watery and itchy eyes) over the past several weeks, many have headed to their local pharmacy to find relief. Once arriving at the allergy /cold aisle, its easy to become overwhelmed with the variety of sprays and tablets. There are important things to keep in mind when searching for the right over-the-counter treatment.
Nasal decongestants are commonly found on pharmacy shelves and are often the first thing that people try. While they do provide fast acting relief of nasal congestion, they can also have very bad side effects if used for too long. We generally recommend using them for only 3-5 days. Using them for any longer can cause “rebound congestion”, which can make the congestion worse.
In the spring, when pollen counts are high, the nasal lining is bombarded with allergens. This can cause nasal drip, drainage, and itchiness. One of the simplest ways to provide relief from these symptoms is to use a saline sinus rinse. By irrigating, or squeezing salt water through the nasal cavities, you are getting a “power wash” for the nose. This removes allergens & contaminants encountered on a daily basis. This can be very effective when used routinely in reducing congestion and thinning drainage /secretions.
In recent years many nasal steroid sprays have become generic and are now stocked on pharmacy shelves. These medications help decrease nasal inflammation. This helps decrease nasal congestion, nasal drainage and eye itching. This is a great first line medication especially if the nose and eyes are involved.
Pro tip: When using nasal steroids remember to spray towards the side of your nose and away from your septum. Utilizing proper spraying technique can help decrease the risk of nose bleeds.
There are many oral antihistamines available on the market. Some of these can cause drowsiness and interfere with day-to-day activities, like driving or operating machinery. Fortunately, there are non-drowsy formulas. You can usually tell this by reading the description printed on the box. Oral antihistamines can be effective for treating nasal symptoms but also skin & throat itching, as well as wheezing. They can be found with and without oral decongestants, which has the added benefit of opening up nasal passages and improving breathing. However, they can have some nasty side effects like insomnia, irritability and can increase blood pressure.
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to help with allergy symptoms. Many times, it really is a trial and error to find the best combination of medications to help your symptoms. If in doubt, consult with your physician about your allergic rhinitis before selecting a medication.