What's In Your Medicine Cabinet?

Brooklyn, NY (April 22nd 2009) - Springtime is prime allergy season, and there are a variety of strategies for coping with symptoms. According to Dr. Michael Marcus, Director of Allergy at Maimonides Medical Center, sufferers should understand the different categories of over-the-counter allergy medicines, how they are best used and when it is wise to see a doctor about ongoing symptoms that may require a different treatment strategy.

There are three broad categories of over-the-counter oral allergy medications:

The so-called "first generation antihistamines" includes medications that, while effective, often cause drowsiness. Brand names include Benadryl and Chlortrimeton. 

The newer antihistamines typically do not cause the same drowsiness, and thus do not interfere with daytime activities. Medications in this category include loratadine (brand name Claritin) and fexofenadine (brand name Allegra).

A third category of antihistamines includes cetirizine (brand name Zyrtec), which causes less drowsiness than the first-generation antihistamines, but has mild sedation properties.

"Everyone responds to these medications in different ways, so it is very important to be careful the first time you take any medicine to see how your body reacts," says Dr. Marcus. "Some patients even become a bit drowsy after taking the so-called non-sedating medications." 

Dr. Marcus advises that if one medication does not work, it is worth trying another - even within the same category. He recommends that allergy sufferers begin by using single ingredient products and not combination medications.

Allergy medications work best preventatively, according to Dr. Marcus. They are best taken in the morning before symptoms begin, and when the pollen count is at its highest. "Once symptoms present themselves, over-the-counter allergy medications are far less effective," he says.

Generic store brands of the leading over-the-counter allergy medications are equally effective and often less expensive. Dr. Marcus cautions patients to carefully read labels to make sure the medications are truly comparable.

He also recommends avoiding nose sprays, which can provide temporary relief, but often cause a "rebound effect" when patients stop using them - allergy symptoms actually become worse. Also, these sprays should not be used for more than two or three consecutive days, as they can become addictive.

At what point should an allergy sufferer consult with a physician?

"If it takes a daily dose of medication to control your symptoms, or if you need two or more medications to do the job, it's worth consulting an allergy specialist," says Dr. Marcus. "A physician can help you decide whether prescription medications or a different treatment regimen may be a more effective solution."

For more information about Dr. Michael Marcus, allergies and other clinical services at Maimonides Medical Center, visit the website at www.maimonidesmed.org.


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