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A pharmacist's guide to allergy season

Last Modified: April 02, 2018

Family Medicine

It is officially spring and that means allergy season is upon us. If you suffer from common allergy symptoms - itchy eyes, a runny nose, fatigue - relief can't come soon enough. But do you know which medication is best for you? Katharine Lundy, PharmD candidate, Ohio Northern University College of Pharmacy, and Abby Todt, PharmD, BCPS, Parkview Health, walk us through the basics, from a pharmaceutical perspective.
Identifying triggers

Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergies. However, identifying potential triggers and avoiding them if possible is one of the best ways to help manage symptoms. This might include steps such as: 

  • Reducing your household humidity level

  • Using hypoallergenic casing for your bedding and pillows

  • Avoiding outdoor activities when pollen counts are high

Allergy medications fall into several different categories. Here, we'll walk through just some of the more popular options. Remember: Always consult the medication package and label for dosing and precaution information prior to ingesting. 

Nasal wetting agents

Example: Saline nasal sprays

Useful for: Nasal irritation or dryness

Side effects: Saline sprays do not contain any active medication and generally do not have any side effects, but some people may experience mild stinging or burning with use.

Intranasal Corticosteroids

Examples: Flonase®, Nasacort®, Rhinocort® nasal sprays

Useful for: Nasal itching, congestion and sneezing

Side effects: Generally well tolerated. May cause some minor nasal discomfort or bleeding, cough or sore throat.

Additional information: These are considered the best agents for treating moderate to severe allergy symptoms. I would say they are a good first choice for those who have never tried allergy medications before or have routine, predictable symptoms.

Non-drowsy antihistamines

Examples: Claritin®, Zyrtec®, Allegra®, Xyzal®

Useful for: Nasal itching, sneezing, runny nose

Side effects: Headache

Additional Information: These are good for unpredictable allergy symptoms, as they work very quickly. These products also a significant number of drug interactions, so you should check with your pharmacist before purchasing this type of product to see if it interacts with any of your other medications. Allegra does not work as well if taken with any kind of fruit juice, so make sure to wait at least two hours after drinking fruit juice before taking Allegra. Zyrtec® is considered to be a stronger agent than Claritin® or Allegra but can cause drowsiness in about 10 percent of people. Do not plan on driving or operating machinery until you know how this medication affects you.


Examples: Sudafed®, Afrin®

Useful for: Sinus and nasal congestion, cough associated with postnasal drip

Side effects: increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, restlessness, insomnia

Additional Information: These should only be used for a short amount of time (3-7 days) to avoid rebound congestion. These products also have many drug interactions, so you should check with your pharmacist before purchasing this type of product to see if it interacts with any of your other medications.

Cromolyn Nasal Spray

Example: NasalCrom®

Useful for: preventing and treating nasal symptoms

Side effects: Sneezing, nasal stinging/burning

Additional information: This product works best if taken before experiencing allergy symptoms, as a preventative measure. It takes time to see the effect of this product: 3-7 days for initial improvement, and up to 2-4 weeks for maximum benefit

Navigating through the many different allergy products available can be overwhelming, but there are always pharmacists available to help and answer any questions you may have. 

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