Monday, February 24, 2014

Over-the-counter allergy medications warrant caution for some

Nasal allergy sprays can now be purchased without prescription; allergists offer advice as allergy season looms

The next time you’re at the local pharmacy, you may be surprised to see your prescribed allergy nasal spray available over-the-counter. Many drug manufacturers are pushing for this move to make finding relief easier for some of the 50 million Americans with allergies. However, Ferrell-Duncan Clinic allergists urge caution.

“Allergy sufferers may no longer need a prescription for certain allergy nasal sprays, but they might need an allergist’s advice,” said allergist Minh-Thu Le from Ferrell-Duncan Clinic. “Some medications merely mask symptoms without tackling the root of the allergy. And often patients will find a medication that once suppressed their symptoms, no longer does.”

The over-the-counter availability of these nasal sprays may lead to questions from allergy sufferers. To help eliminate confusion, Drs. Bill Micka and Minh-Thu Le, along with the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) have answered the seven most common questions:

1. Is it safe?
Not only can these OTC nasal allergy sprays relieve congestion, sneezing and a runny nose, they also do not cause drowsiness and are non-habit forming. Improper use of nasal sprays may cause nasal bleeding. Follow the package instructions and inform your allergist if bleeding occurs.

2. Can I stop antihistamines? If you find solely using the nasal allergy spray is helping to suppress your symptoms, you may not need to take an antihistamine. Each person is different and they will have to be the judge of how they feel only using one medication. However, if you’re not finding relief from one or both medications, you should speak with your allergist.

3. Is it safe to give my child? The medication is approved for children two years of age and older. But it may complicate some infections your child might have, so check with your allergist.

4. Can it be used year-round? Yes, it is approved for year-round use. Many allergy sufferers that have year-round allergies to pets, dust and mold often find nasal sprays are not enough for symptom relief. Many allergists prescribe immunotherapy (also known as allergy shots), which not only provides symptom relief, but can modify and prevent disease progression.

5. Will my insurance cover it?
It is unlikely your insurance provider will cover an over-the-counter nasal allergy spray, even if it was covered when it was prescribed.

6. Do I need to continue following up with my allergist? Allergy sprays are merely a medication and not a cure for allergy. Because allergies can change over time, it’s important to be under the care of an allergist for proper testing, diagnosis and treatment that may go beyond over-the-counter medications. Allergies can also cause symptoms such as chronic sinus infections, nasal congestion or difficulty breathing.

“Allergies and asthma are serious diseases,” said Dr. Bill Micka. “Misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment can be dangerous.”