Still finding yourself reaching for the tissue box even after taking allergy medications? You’re not alone. Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, affects up to 30% of all people worldwide. Many seasonal allergy sufferers have found that over-the-counter medications, which can be purchased without a prescription, are not helping their itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and other symptoms.
How they work
WebMD has an in-depth explanation of how allergies and allergy medications work. Basically, when you are exposed to an allergen, it triggers your immune system, the body’s defense against disease-causing organisms and other invaders. People with allergies have an exaggerated immune response. Mast cells, also known as immune system cells, release a compound in response to allergic and inflammatory reactions called histamine that attaches to receptors in blood vessels and causes them to enlarge. Histamine also binds to other receptors and causes redness, swelling, and itching.
By blocking histamine and keeping it from binding to receptors, antihistamines, usually in the form of pills, liquids, and nasal sprays like Claritin and Allegra, prevent these symptoms.
Even with the ineffectiveness of over-the-counter medications, researchers have found that very few people treat their seasonal allergies with prescription medications, an alternative to over-the-counter medications. These patients report slightly higher levels of satisfaction with these medications compared with users of over-the-counter allergy products.
The researchers, who presented their ideas at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting in San Antonio also found that 51% of adults who took a prescription allergy pill said they were very or extremely satisfied with the drug’s effectiveness, while only 33% of adults who take an over-the-counter allergy pill reported the same degree of satisfaction. Despite not being thrilled with the results, 62% of the surveyed adults admitted that they still use over-the-counter allergy products to manage their symptoms.
Over the counter medications are fine for mild, occasional symptoms, while prescription drugs are more targeted toward relieving severe symptoms. Even if symptoms are severe, the reason that so many people take over-the-counter allergy medications has to do with the cost, says study author Dr. Eli Meltzer, a senior associate at Allergy & Asthma Medical Group & Research Center in San Diego. Meltzer adds that health plans may also be limiting people’s access to prescription allergy medications until they have tried over-the-counter medications first.
Why do we see so many people suffering from allergy symptoms that affect their sleep and quality of life?
It’s not unusual for people to tolerate and ignore their allergy symptoms, Meltzer explains. Because of this, seasonal allergies are frequently underdiagnosed and undertreated. People may also opt to self-treat their seasonal allergies without consulting a doctor or end up randomly choosing a product from the shelves of a pharmacy store.
There are ways for most hay fever sufferers to control their symptoms, but patients have to be properly treated, Meltzer says. Over-the-counter products may help, but if symptoms are still bothersome, one should seek help from a professional and go to an allergy specialist who can help manage and monitor treatment.