Ask Your Pharmacist

April 26, 2018

I get seasonal allergies each spring. Can they be starting already? There’s still snow on the ground! 


It may not feel like spring to us, but to trees and other plants, longer days mean it’s time to release pollen, one of the leading causes of allergies this time of year. Often referred to as allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, seasonal allergies cause sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and nasal congestion. For some it may just be a runny nose while for others it can easily be mistaken for a cold that just won’t go away. There are many options available to help you deal with allergic rhinitis.

Allergic rhinitis happens when your body’s immune system mistakes a harmless thing like pollen for something trying to infect or harm the body. This triggers inflammation to fight off the invader. Most commonly these triggers (or antigens) are pollen from plants (trees, weeds, flowers, and grass), dust mites, moulds, or pet dander spread through the air into our eyes, nose and throat. Knowing what causes, or triggers, your allergy is important since prevention is the best treatment. Try to avoid what triggers your symptoms. Keep your windows closed when pollen is in the air. A HEPA filter or air purifier can help remove allergens from the air as well. Avoiding isn’t always practical or 100 per cent effective for a lot of people. In this situation, we look to pharmacy for help.

Allergic rhinitis treatments come in many forms. Tablets, eye drops, nasal sprays, and sinus rinses make up the bulk of these treatments. Depending on your specific symptoms, one option may be a better choice than another. If itchy eyes are the only issue, an eye drop may be best. If runny nose is your only symptom, a sinus rinse may be enough. Since most people have a combination of symptoms, medication that covers all symptoms is preferred. Oral antihistamines (Aerius®, Reactine® and Claritin®) are first-line treatment for multi-symptom relief. These are typically a once daily tablet or liquid for children. These target sneezing, itching, runny nose, and can help with nasal congestion and watery eyes as well. These can be started at the onset of allergy season and taken until the season is over or to prevent allergies from, say, a cat you’ll be visiting.

Some antihistamines such as Benadryl® may cause drowsiness and confusion as well as increased risk of falling, especially among seniors, so it may not be a good first choice for daily use to combat allergies. However, Benadryl® may be helpful at night if allergies are keeping you awake. Decongestant tablets (Sudafed®) may provide temporary daytime relief of sinus pressure, but they are not appropriate for everyone as it can worsen certain health conditions so be sure to ask your pharmacist about it.

Steroid nasal sprays are another option that targets most allergy symptoms. They may be even more effective than antihistamines for most symptoms, especially when sinus pressure, nasal congestion, puffy eyes and ears are affected. These sprays take two to three days to start working and have few side effects when used properly. Using these sprays properly can be tricky at first, so speak to your pharmacist for tips on correct use. Decongestant sprays (Dristan®) may help but are not recommended for more than one week as dependence can occur. The same issue can occur with decongestant eye drops (Visine®) products as well, so use with caution or ask your pharmacist for an alternative eye drops for regular eye issues.

Allergic rhinitis doesn’t have to ruin your spring. By avoiding allergy triggers and using medications appropriately, you can minimize symptoms and enjoy the soon-to-be nice weather. In New Brunswick pharmacists are able to assess and treat allergic rhinitis. Your pharmacist may recommend drug-free treatment, over-the-counter medication, prescription medications (which they may prescribe), or refer you to your physician for further assessment.

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist in Saint John. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to