The Dangers of Over-the-Counter Allergy Products

The allergy season is now definitely in full-bloom—despite the cool weather. The tree pollen counts are soaring and I’m getting calls from new patients who are feeling the typical allergic symptoms, such as: runny nose, nasal congestion and itchy eyes. I’ve also noticed that patients with asthma are having more symptoms with the dramatic changes in weather.

I am teaching an Allergy & Asthma Wellness class at Hewlett High school tomorrow, and I am hoping to teach the students that over-the-counter allergy products can cause more harm than they are helpful. I realized that all my patients would benefit from a reminder on which products to avoid and what’s a better alternative.

Visine: it’s advertised to “Get the red out” of your eyes. It accomplishes this by constricting your blood vessels in the eye. However, if this medicine is used on a regular basis for allergy or cosmetic reasons, you can end up with chronic red eyes. Why? Your eyes become used to the medicine and basically you become “hooked” on it. A much better alternative is the prescription eye drops like Pataday or Elestat.

Afrin: This is the nasal decongestant that works immediately for colds or allergic rhinitis. The problem with Afrin, like Visine, is that you get “hooked” on its benefit, but with chronic use you end up more symptomatic than before. Today, there are many excellent prescription choices to help ease allergy nasal symptoms: Patanase, Astelin, Flonase, etc. Remember, antihistamines don’t give relief for nasal congestion, except the ones that have a “D” with them. In my book, The Allergy and Asthma Solution, I warn that constant use of decongestants can raise your blood pressure, and cause insomnia or heartburn.

Primatene: The final product which is over-the-counter, but not really safe for asthma is mist-this is inhaled epinephrine. I rarely see any patients in my practice with asthma who use it, but it is still available in many drug stores. Sadly, if a patient with asthma constantly uses this medicine they are not properly treating the inflammatory component of asthma, and can be at risk of dying if there airways shut down and get filled with mucus.

MY intention is not too scare the students or my patients about over-the-counter medicines, but the truth is that many of these products are old and outdated. Newer medicines are more specific and have less side effects.

Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island

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