Since most people self-medicate for their allergic reactions, it is prudent to know about the
over-the-counter drugs that you take. Allergy patients should also be aware that there are many naturopathic botanical and nutritional therapies that are as effective or sometimes more successful than these drugs.

The most commonly used medications are antihistamines like Allegra, Benadryl, Claritin and Zyrtec. They work by blocking the release of histamine. Although these medications do relieve the symptoms of an allergic response, they also create many side effects such as drowsiness, which is a common side effect. Newer medications tend to create less sleepiness than brands like Benadryl. Other side effects include dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, restlessness or moodiness (in some children), trouble urinating or not being able to urinate, blurred vision and confusion. Other more serious side effects include impaired thinking, depression, anxiety, increased appetite, low libido and infertility in women.

Use with caution if you have conditions such as an enlarged prostate, heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, kidney or liver disease, a bladder obstruction or glaucoma. Make sure to check with your doctor if you are pregnant or nursing.

Alternatives for antihistamines include quercetin and stinging nettles leaf (urtica dioica). Quercetin blocks the release of histamine at a dose of 500 to 2000mg daily. Stinging nettles is well researched, and clinically has been found to be very effective. Other helpful botanicals include feverfew and Tinaspora.

Decongestants shrink the swollen tissues in the nasal passages but don’t help the sneezing and the itchy nose and eyes. Sudafed PE, Afrin and Dristan are all decongestants. The worst side effects are agitation, anxiety, palpitations and difficulty sleeping. It is not recommended to use them if you have glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart conditions, thyroid problems, enlarged prostate or diabetes. Decongestant nasal sprays tend to be better tolerated than the oral medications because the doses are lower.

Bromelain from the pineapple will thin the mucus and reduce nasal swelling. Ginger tea and ginger steams effectively open the nasal passages by reducing swelling.

Nasacort Allergy 24HR and Flonase Allergy Relief are two steroid nasal sprays available over the counter. Others prescription products include steroids which are some of the strongest allergy medications. They do thin the lining of the nasal passages and sinuses, so they can cause nose bleeds or a sore throat. Long-term use has potential for multiple problems, so use with caution and very short term.

Alternatives to steroids include bromelain, acupuncture and several combination herbal products. Consult your naturopathic physician if you have chronic inflammation of the sinuses.

Stronger prescription strengths of the medications discussed above are used when the over-the-counter medications are inadequate. The following medications, which are available only by prescription, are being used more frequently.

Singulair is a leukotriene inhibitor that is used to prevent asthma, and recently for allergy-related nose and eye irritation. Side effects include headache, earache, sore throat, nervousness, nausea and nasal congestion. Neuropsychiatric events have been reported in adult, adolescent and pediatric patients taking Singulair. Ask your doctor before taking Singulair if you’re pregnant or before giving it to a child.

Butterbur also acts as a leukotriene inhibitor, blocking swelling in the nose and upper respiratory passages. It can be as effective as Singular, as can many other naturopathic therapies. The treatment of asthma requires a well-trained professional. Please do not discontinue your inhaler without discussing it with your doctor.

Another type of allergy medication is the mast cell inhibitor, which includes cromolyn sodium (Nasalcrom, Crolom). It is used to prevent allergic symptoms like runny nose or itchy eyes. Cromolyn sodium must be started one to two weeks before pollen season and continued daily to prevent seasonal allergy symptoms. Dosing must be precise since the effect only lasts up to eight hours. Nasal sprays help to prevent runny nose or eye drops for itchy eyes. Eye drops may cause stinging, burning, redness, and sometimes severe swelling of eyes. Nasal congestion, sneezing, itching, nosebleeds and burning can be caused by the nasal sprays.

Prevention of allergic reactions can be facilitated by acupuncture, local bee pollen, elimination diets, nasal irrigation with a neti pot, or one of the more modern equivalents using essential oil of lemon balm or plain saline. Consider one of these therapies before choosing any drug treatment.

All of these natural therapies are helpful, but the most effective and long term relief is created by allergy desensitization. Allergies are a mistake in recognition of a benign substance such as pollen, dust, mold or food. The body sees these things as dangerous and reacts with an inflammatory immune response making you miserable. It is possible to change the way the body reacts by correcting how you recognize the allergen.

Anne Mitchell is a naturopathic physician at Advanced Allergy Relief of Connecticut with offices in North Haven and West Hartford. For information, call 203-239-3400 or visit