It sure feels great to be putting away those thick down coats, but springtime also brings about sneezing patients with itchy eyes. The medical term for spring allergies is allergic rhinitis, which literally means “inflammation of the nose.” It is more commonly referred to as hay fever (even though allergies don’t cause a fever).
The chief culprit here is pollen from flowering trees and plants. Five to ten percent of people develop an abnormally strong reaction to these particles (inhaled through the nose): itchy, watery eyes, a clear runny nose, sneezing, and a headache. Others are faced with asthma and eczema.
One of the healthiest treatments is very simple and cheap: a nasal saline rinse. Squeeze salty water through each nostril so the water flushes out of the other nostril or your mouth. While it sounds gross, it does wonders to flush out those pollen spores and dust before they trigger an allergic attack. It’s also very useful for anyone with congestion, chronic sinusitis, colds and flu, and maybe even asthma. You can buy these pre-made kits in local pharmacies, or make the solution yourself. All you need is a small squeeze bottle or a Neti pot. It’s important to use purified, distilled water to ensure no fungus or bacteria get inside your nose and sinuses.
The primary treatment for spring allergies is over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines: one that includes either diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine. These are quite effective, but only last for a few hours and cause drowsiness. Diphendydramine (AKA Benadryl) in particular is so sleep-inducing that it’s the active ingredient in most OTC sleeping pills, like Tylenol PM.
The second generation pills (chlorpheniramine) last almost 24 hours and cause much less drowsiness, but may not be as effective for some. Common pills include loratadine (Clarityn) and cetirizine (Zyrtec). If you have a runny nose and congestion, sometimes adding the decongestant pill pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can really help. This medicine is the “D” ingredient in the allergy combination pills such as Claritin-D. But pseudoephedrine also has common side effects, such as insomnia and loss of appetite. It’s also notorious for being the base drug for methamphetamine, which is why in many countries this is no longer sold over the counter. Unfortunately, the new substitute decongestant phenylephrine (called PE on most packages) isn’t nearly as effective. Fortunately for us in China, we still use the more effective pseudoephedrine in our OTC medicines.
If you have bad eye symptoms of tearing and itchiness, an OTC eyedrop medicine can help, such as naphazoline (Naphcon-A). If you need stronger medicines, the doctor can prescribe longer-lasting eye drops such as olopatadine (Patanol).
If your family still has bad hay fever symptoms after using a combination of these treatments, it’s time to see your family doctor. You may need prescription medicine, such as a popular steroid nasal spray; while effective, these medicines are a last resort. By May, summer is fast approaching, and the worst of annual spring misery is over.
photo by Flickr user bump.