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Facing the new year with nasal allergies

Published:Wednesday | January 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM

It's cold and flu season again - the Cold War era, evidenced by the demand at pharmacies for multi-symptom treatments. I paid my dues shortly before Christmas when I became fatigued and my allergies acted up. I caught a cold, which I nursed throughout the season. Fatigue, stress and allergies make us vulnerable to a cold. If we can keep these three in check, we may stand a fighting chance in the new year against the sniffles, stuffy noses, dry throats, watery eyes, coughs and icky feeling.

Allergies are common

About one in every four of us suffers from allergies. Being prone to allergies tends to run in families - if both parents have allergies, we are likely to have them. We can be allergic to the very air we breathe, and some experience respiratory allergy symptoms all year round because allergies can be triggered by anything from pollen to feathers, grass, pets like cats and dogs, cleaning chemicals, smoke, car exhaust and mould spores.

Sufferers of house-dust allergy are actually allergic to the droppings of eight-legged animals called dustmites! These microscopic animals congregate where dust is, in places like carpets, mattresses, pillows, and curtains. There are over 10 million of them living in the average bed!

What are allergies?

The body reacts when it encounters something it thinks is harmful - the allergy occurs when the immune system jumps into overdrive to destroy the 'invader' (allergen). We release histamines which cause the miserable allergic symptoms like red, watery, itchy eyes and nose, stuffy and runny nose, wheezing, sinus pain, and explosive sneezing.

Controlling respiratory allergies

If we are aware of the allergens which trigger a response from us, we may limit our exposure and control our response. No allergen exposure, no allergic response. The next best thing is to minimise our bodies' allergic response to these irritant allergens. This is where anti-histamines play their part.

Allergy treatment

Anti-histamines are the first line of treatment for nasal allergy symptoms. As the name suggests, they neutralise the effect of histamines. They are available in tablets, capsules, syrups, nasal sprays and eye drops.

Many oral anti-histamines like diphenhydramine (Di-Fen, DPH), chlorpheniramine (Histal, Piriton), cyproheptadine (Peritol) and clemastine (Tavegyl) cause drowsiness. There are newer non-sedating anti-histamines like cetirizine (Cetrine, Zyrtec), and loratadine (Erolin, Claritine).

Nasal decongestants help us breathe better. They include sodium chloride nose drops, ephedrine, pseudo-ephedrine and xylometazoline (Otrivine, Afrin). Most are best used for three days only, since longer use may actually cause congestion.

Nasal steroids like beclomethasone (Beconase, Health-2000 Beclomethasone, Las-Beclomethasone), betamethasone (Vistamethasone, Betnesol), fluticasone (Flixonase), mometasone (Nasonex) and triamcinolone (Nasacort) are useful in prevention and treatment of nasal allergy symptoms. However, they may take several days to work.

Professional advice

Talk to your health care provider first.

Check with the doctor or pharmacist who may identify the allergen which affects you. After ruling out glaucoma, uncontrolled high blood pressure and heart disease, they may recommend the ideal treatment for your nasal allergies.

Dahlia McDaniel is a pharmacist and final year doctoral candidate in public health at the University of London; email: