You’ve been sniffling for a couple of days, or maybe that headache above the bridge of your nose is hanging around too long this season.
“Allergy symptoms are best managed by avoiding the allergen, not by taking drugs,” says Harold J. DeMonaco, M.S., director of drug therapy management and the chair of the Human Research Committee at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“If you can’t figure out what’s causing the symptoms - ‘I have no idea why my nose is stuffy’ versus ‘it gets stuffy every time I play with the cat’ - then drug therapy may be useful.”
So off to the local drug store you go, only to find yourself dazed, not from the allergy symptoms alone, but from the dozens of medications on the shelves or the confusing directions that come with them.
Rather than sorting through the multiple remedies alone, it might be a good idea to stop by the pharmacist’s counter for some help.
To help your pharmacist help you, be prepared to tell him or her:
- The symptoms that are bothering you. Try to be specific. Red and itchy eyes, nasal stuffiness, runny nose can be treated in different ways, so it is important not to put a label on the problem (I have allergies), but rather to describe your symptoms.
- About any medical problems with which you have been diagnosed. “Many drugs are perfectly safe when taken alone but can cause problems when used in combination or when used by people with health problems,” DeMonaco says. Although over-the-counter nasal decongestants can be taken safely by most people, those with high blood pressure or a history of stroke should avoid them.
- About any other allergies that you may have.
- How often you are having symptoms. For example, if symptoms occur sporadically then you’ll need to decide whether relief or prevention is most important to you. It can mean the difference between using nasal sprays or pseudoephedrine, which are drugs that relieve symptoms, or antihistamines that can be used before an anticipated exposure to prevent allergy symptoms.
Allergies require treatment suited to your lifestyle and medical history. To get some help with finding a medication that works for you, here are some specific questions to prepare for your pharmacist.
- What’s the difference between the store brand and the name brand of an over-the-counter allergy medicine?
- How does this herbal drug compare to my prescription or the store and name brands? DeMonaco notes that there are few if any studies that support the use of herbal remedies for allergy relief.
- Are there specific side effects with this drug?
- If it doesn’t say don’t drive, but the medicine causes drowsiness, should I drive?
- What kinds of other medications should I not take?
- Is it important when I take the medication?
- Are there some medications that should not be given to children?
- Are my symptoms too serious for an over-the-counter drug?
- Will this prevent or relieve my symptoms?
Your questions may not be limited just to your in-store visit. Some pharmacists will answer questions over the phone as well, particularly with the drugs your doctor prescribes for you.
Finally, a pharmacist also will suggest a visit to the doctor or nurse practitioner if symptoms persist or sedation becomes a problem.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.