The 7 questions you need answered about seasonal allergies

It’s that beautiful time of the year when the weather gets warmer, the flowers start blooming, the birds start singing and you start sneezing. Yep, spring is here and that means so are seasonal allergies. But don’t worry, LowestMed has the answers to questions that will help you breathe again.

1. How common are respiratory allergies?

You aren’t alone in your sneezing and wheezing. Close to 50 million people in the United States have nasal allergies. This number makes allergic diseases, including allergic asthma, the fifth leading chronic disease in the U.S. for people of all ages and the third most common chronic disease for children under the age of 18. You have a higher risk of developing allergies if you have asthma, have a family history of asthma or allergies, or are a child under the age of 18.

2. What is a respiratory allergy?

Allergies occur when the immune system reacts to a foreign substance called an allergen. There are no universal allergens. What causes a severe reaction to one person might have no effect on another. Most people with seasonal allergies will have more than one type of allergy. Allergens enter the body through ingestion, inhalation, injection or in some cases even touch.

Here are some common allergy triggers:

• Pollen
• Overactive Immune System
• Animal Dander
• Dust Mites
• Insect Stings
• Mold
• Cockroaches

3. What are common symptoms of seasonal allergies and complications?

Allergy symptoms will differ depending on the substance involved. They can affect the airways, sinuses and nasal passages. Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe and in some cases, cause a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis that can cause people to go into shock. Common symptoms in respiratory allergies, or hay fever, range from sneezing, itching of the nose, eyes or roof of the mouth, a runny stuffy nose and watery, red or swollen eyes.

Is it allergies or a cold? Read our blog post on how to know.

If you have allergies, you are at an increased risk of other medical conditions such as:

• Anaphylaxis. Although this condition is typically only found in allergic reactions cause by food or medications
• Asthma. Allergies and asthma can sometimes come as a pair. In many cases, asthma can be caused by exposure to an allergen (allergy-induced asthma)
• Sinusitis or sinus infection
• Ear of lung infections
• Migraine headaches

4. What causes respiratory allergy symptoms?

When the immune system detects a foreign substance or allergen, it releases a chemical called histamine that does whatever it takes to get rid of the allergen. Histamines are stored in what are called mast cells located in the skin, lungs, nose, mouth, gut and blood. Once released from the mast cells, histamine boosts the blood flow in the infected area of the body. The increased blood flow causes inflammation. The histamine also binds to receptors, which prompts other chemicals from the immune system to start repair work. It is the repair work prompted by histamines that causes people to start sneezing, itching and tearing up. For example, if the nose was affected by pollen, histamines would prompt the membranes to make more mucus. The increase in mucus could cause a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and cause coughing.

5. How to prevent allergies

Medicine will help treat allergy symptoms when they hit you, but there are other easy steps you can take to help prevent seasonal allergies in the first place. We’ve listed the best below.

Ten ways to prevent seasonal allergies

1. Filter the air. Cover your air conditioning vents with cheesecloth to trap pollen and use HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters to reduce the dust and mold blown around in your house
2. Don’t use fans, they will kick up dust
3. Vacuum once or twice a week
4. Keep the humidity in your house below 50% to help prevent mold growth
5. Don’t collect too many indoor plants, they can encourage mold growth
6. Regularly wash your bedding in hot water
7. Replace long drapes or Venetian blinds with shades or shutters
8. Install dehumidifiers in parts of your house where mold is likely to grow, such as the basement
9. Limit how many throw rugs you keep, to reduce dust and mold. Regularly wash any throw rugs you may have
10. If you have pets, keep them outside and give them baths regularly

6. How to treat allergies

Unfortunately, there is no cure for seasonal allergies, however there are medications available, both over-the-counter and through prescription that can ease allergy symptoms. Typically, these drugs fall into these categories

Types of Medicine for Allergy:

• Antihistamines
• Decongestants
• Combination drugs
• Steroids
• Leukotriene Modifiers
• Immunotherapy Allergy Shots

What are Antihistamines?

As you can probably guess, antihistamines are meant to control or block histamine that is released during an allergic reaction. They work by blocking histamine and keeping it from binding to receptors which cause itching, sneezing and tearing up. Antihistamines fall into two broad categories: sedating and non-sedating. They can be taken as pills, liquids, nasal spray or eye drops.

Over-the-counter antihistamines include:

• Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
• Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
• Fexofenadine (Allegra)
• Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)

Prescription antihistamines include:

Clarinex (oral medication)
Xyzal (oral medication)
Astelin (nasal spray)
Patanol (eye drops)
Elestat (eye drops)
Opitvar (eye drops)

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What is Decongestant Medicine?

Decongestant medicine is used for temporary relief of nasal and sinus congestion. They work quickly by shrinking the nasal tissues and eye vessels that have swollen in response to encountering the allergen. Decongestant medicine is often prescribed alongside antihistamines, in part, because they do not relieve other symptoms, such as itching and sneezing.

Over-the-counter decongestants

• Pseudoepherine (Sudafed tablets or liquid, Actifed)
• Phenylephrine (Neo-synephrine)
• Oxymetazoline (Afrin)

Combined Drugs

Allergy drugs that contain both an antihistamine and a decongestant are categorized as combined allergy drugs. In addition to blocking the histamine, these drugs will also prevent mast cell from releasing other allergy-inducing chemicals.

Over the counter decongestant types

• Cetirizine and pseudoephedrine (Zyrtec-D)
• Fexofenadine and pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D)
• Ketotifin (Zaditor)

Prescription decongestants

• Acrivastine and pseudoephrine (Semprex-D)
• Azelastine (Optivar)
• Olopatadine (Patanol)
• Azelastine/Fluticasone (Dymista)

Steroids for Allergies

Steroids are used to reduce the inflammation that is often associated with allergies. They are also used to prevent and treat nasal stuffiness, sneezing and itchy runny nose. Systemic steroids come in a variety of different forms:

• Pills or liquids, for serious allergies and asthma
• Inhalers – for asthma
• Nasal sprays – year-round seasonal allergies
• Topical creams – skin allergies
• Eye drops

Types of OTC nasal spray steroids

• Budesonide (Rhinocort Allergy)
• Fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief)
• Triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24hr)

Types of Prescription Nasal Steroids

• Ciclesonide (Zetonna)
• Fluticasone Proprionate (Flonase)
• Fluticasone Furoate (Veramyst)
• Mometasone (Nasonex)
• Beclomethasone (Beconase, Qansl)

Prescription inhaled steroids

• Beclomethasone (QVar)
• Budesonide (Pulmicort)
• Ciclesondie (Alvesco)
• Flunisolide (Aerobid)
• Flutcasone (Flovent)
• Mometasone (Asmanex)
• Trimcinolone (Azmacort)

Leukotriene Modifiers

Leukotriene Modifiers work by blocking the effects of leukotrienes, which are chemicals released by the body in response to an allergic reaction. These medications are only available with a prescription and can treat asthma and allergies.

Prescription Leukotriene Modifiers

• Monteleukast (Singulair)
• Zariflukast (Accolate)
• Zyflo (Zileuton)

Immunotherapy/Allergy Shots

Immunotherapy or allergy shots are recommended for those experiencing allergies for more than three months of the year. The shots expose a person to increasing levels of the offending allergen, to help their immune system build tolerance.

7. Prescription or Over The Counter Allergy Medication?

Now that you know everything there is to know about allergy medicine, the last question is, when do you need to fill a prescription for allergies and when can you stick to over the counter allergy medication? Well, there are two important factors to considered in your decision-making process. The first being the severity of your allergy. In most cases, prescription allergy medications are stronger than over the counter allergy medications and therefore, should be used in allergy cases that are more severe.

The second factor to consider is medication cost. Over the counter allergy medication costs are often far less than prescription allergy medication costs, and therefore, would be your best option if symptoms aren’t severe. If taking a prescribed medication is your best option, you can still save money by visiting LowestMed to compare prices across pharmacies and Rx coupons at no cost. Always consult your physician or pharmacist about possible side effects, risk factors and any other questions you may have before taking any prescription medication.