Allergies: Natural remedies vs over-the-counter remedies

There's no shortage of tried-and-true techniques. But which is best for you?

Seasonal shifts. Food. Pet dander. Bug bites. All of these things are potential allergens that can trigger allergic reactions. And when allergies kick in, the discomfort can be distracting. So why does this happen? Allergens enter the body and trigger the immune system, causing it to release histamine. Histamine stimulates the nerves of the nose to cause sneezing and also causes the nasal passages to fill with fluid and cells to fight the allergen. These responses inflame the mucus membranes and increase the production of mucus, causing a stuffed or runny nose. Other common symptoms include watery or itchy eyes, coughing, sneezing and a sore throat. 

The good news is that there are many remedies for allergies. But are natural remedies or over-the-counter (OTC) options better? Read on to find out the pros and cons of each type of remedy.

Natural Remedies 

You can use natural remedies to treat hay fever and other allergies caused by your environment. These remedies are usually inexpensive. 

1. Prevention 

Though not technically a remedy, removing or avoiding triggers is a natural way to help reduce allergy symptoms. Here are some basic prevention techniques: 

    1. Remove plants from your home that may be releasing invisible pollen 

    2. Change your daily routine to reduce the amount of time spent outside in the early morning, specifically between 5 am and 10 am when pollen production is high 

    3. Go outside after heavy rains, when pollen counts are typically lower 

    4. Change your clothes when you get home in case you are tracking outdoor allergens into your home 

    5. Keep car and house windows closed and avoid using window fans 

There are few cons to prevention, but it can be difficult to ensure you are removing allergens. If you continue to experience allergies, you should combine preventative tactics with other tools. 

2. Rinsing sinuses 

Rinsing your sinuses with a saline solution may help quickly and cheaply relieve nasal congestion. This method flushes out allergens and mucus from the nose. People commonly use squeeze bottles and neti pots (small containers with a spout designed for nasal rinsing).  

When rinsing your sinuses, be sure to use water that is distilled, sterile, boiled and cooled or filtered (using a filter with a 1-micron or smaller pore size). You should also rinse your squeeze bottle or neti pot after each use with sterile water and leave open to air dry. This will help reduce bacterial and microbial growth in and on your irrigation device. 

Over-the-Counter Medicine 

OTC medicine is medication that you do not need a prescription to buy. These once-pharmaceutical-grade allergy drugs are now easy to buy, making them convenient and effective options to treat allergy symptoms. However, it is important to know what you are looking for since buying OTC medicine does not require a doctor’s recommendation and prescriptionIf you’re shopping and need help, you can always ask the store pharmacist.  

OTC drugs help manage allergies in 2 ways. 

1. Antihistamines 

When the immune system detects an “invader”—in this case, the allergen is the harmless invader—it releases histamine, a substance designed to fight the invader. One option is an antihistamine, which helps block the effects of histamine. Doctors recommend antihistamines when the allergy trigger is temporary. For example, if you are doing yard work one day and notice that pollen, grasses or weeds are creating an allergic reaction, an antihistamine can help provide relief for short-term allergic reactions. 

Be cautious when taking first-generation antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) and diphenhydramine. Side effects include drowsiness and confusion in some people. Second-generation OTC antihistamines, like exofenadine (Allegra), loratadine, or cetirizine (Zyrtec) are less likely to cause drowsiness or confusion. 

2. Corticosteroid nasal sprays  

The second method is to suppress the immune system response before it can react to the presence of an allergen in your body. Corticosteroid nasal sprays, such as fluticasone propionate (Flonase), can help suppress your immune system response. 

Corticosteroid nasal sprays should be considered when antihistamines are not working for you or when you have seasonal allergies that are linked to spring pollen or late summer weeds. These nasal sprays help provide relief for congestion and stuffy noses. 

One downside to corticosteroid nasal spray is that they take time to go into full effect, usually from 2 to 4 weeks. If you think a corticosteroid nasal spray is the best solution for your allergies, start using it before your symptoms typically start. Nasal sprays also have side effects. They can cause bloody noses and worsen glaucoma. In rare cases, corticosteroids can create a hole in the septum that separates the right nostril from the left. If you experience these side effects, consult your doctor immediately. 

Both natural remedies and OTC drugs can help alleviate allergies. Natural remedies are usually inexpensive and have few negative side effects. Over-the-counter drugs can help provide short-term or long-term relief, depending on the active ingredient. In the end, there is not a right or wrong answer. What is best for you depends on the type of allergy you have and how serious it is, so it is helpful to consider these details when choosing allergy solutions. And as always, you can consult with your healthcare provider if you want more guidance on how to handle your allergies. 

 


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