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Are you taking the right allergy medication?

Posted at 2:26 PM, Mar 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-24 14:26:58-04

Looking for a way to avoid the inevitable springtime allergy meltdown? Get to know a pharmacist.

While the season of stuffy, sneezy, runny, itchy misery causes many to flock to their doctors, Ashley Hoehn, a pharmacist at Community First Pharmacy in Hamilton, OH, said those people often end up back in the aisles of their local pharmacies looking for over-the-counter medications recommended by their doctors.

“Some of the best options for treating seasonal allergies are now available over-the-counter, and the free health care advice you can get at your pharmacy is a great way to go,” she said.

By developing a relationship with patients, Hoehn said pharmacists are able to advise which drugs are safest, most effective and the most affordable for each individual. No appointment or co-pay is necessary.

So what does she recommend most?

“Everyone’s makeup is different,” Hoehn said. “Different people -- for whatever reason -- respond better to some medications than others.”

Although available medications are similar, it takes trial and error to determine which one works best. If after a few tries nothing seems to be helping, that’s a good time to call the doctor. It could indicate an underlying problem, such as asthma.

Do you suffer from allergies? Try this approach to treating symptoms this spring.

Discover what is triggering the allergic reaction. For those suffering from pollen allergies, keeping the windows open in the spring is only going to fuel the misery. Turn on the AC and see if that helps. Others may benefit from staying inside when pollen counts are highest. Making lifestyle changes may help enough to avoid taking medication.

Get some free advice. Avoid the wait times at the doctor, and talk to a pharmacist first about potential treatment options for allergies. A pharmacist can advise which medications might be best depending on a person’s medical history and medications he or she already is taking.

Consider over-the-counter medications first. All the medicines sold over-the-counter were once prescription medications. Most often, a doctor will suggest over-the-counter medications first to patients suffering from allergies. Those drugs are just as effective, and typically less expensive.

If symptoms don’t improve, call a doctor. There could be underlying reasons for a person’s congestion, such as asthma. If the allergies are especially severe, a specialist can determine to what a person is most allergic, and can explore other medication and treatment options.

Name brand is not any better than generic: The FDA must approve generic medications, and they have to be the same makeup as their counterparts. The pharmacological effects are exactly the same.

Double up on medications: If an antihistamine alone isn’t cutting it, try adding Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or purchasing a combination antihistamine with decongestant. Decongestants, though, should be avoided by those with high blood pressure or heart disease. If that isn’t working, consider a nasal spray, which can control nasal allergy symptoms with fewer side effects than oral medication.

Which common allergy medication is best?
Benadryl (diphenhydramine): Benadryl is most often prescribed to treat itchiness, such as hives. It also helps with drying out the sinuses, and can act as a cough suppressant by eliminating the tickling sensation in a person’s throat. A first-generation antihistamine, Benadryl causes drowsiness, as well as other side effects such as dry mouth. It should be avoided by older adults, because it may increase risk of falls. And, it can be taken more frequently during the day, since it is shorter-acting.
Claritin (loratadine): In its generic form, Claritin typically is the least expensive allergy medication on the market, and often is recommended as a first step for those seeking relief from allergies. A second-generation antihistamine, Claritin is less sedating than Benadryl. While this drug works well for some people, if symptoms don’t improve in a week or two, try a different medication.
Zyrtec (cetirizine): Also a second-generation antihistamine, Zyrtec is less sedating than Benadryl, but is slightly more sedating in older adults than Claritin or Allegra. It is one of the more popular choices for relieving allergies, and is available in generic form.
Allegra (fexofenadine): This second-generation antihistamine is one of the least sedating. Because it is the newest over-the-counter option to be released, it tends to be the most expensive. But, for people who haven’t seen results with Zyrtec or Claritin, it is an ideal choice.
Nasacort (Triamcinolone acetonide): This steroid is a good option for those seeking relief from nasal allergy symptoms. It has fewer side effects than oral medication and can be taken every day. Like other steroid medications, it may take a few days to relieve symptoms, and potentially could take a couple weeks to reach full effect.
Afrin (oxymetazoline): This decongestant nasal spray takes effect within 30 minutes, but it may not be used more than three days, because it is habit forming and can cause rebound congestion.

This story originally published on Your Time, a Community First Solutions publication for people age 50 and older.