By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy
Respiratory allergies such as allergic rhinitis affect about one in five Canadians. Allergic rhinitis is a collection of symptoms, mostly in the nose and eyes, which occur when you breathe in something you are allergic to; such as dust, dander, insect venom, or pollen. Pollen is produced by plants such as trees, grasses and ragweed, so this is not the best time of year if you have pollen allergies. Your doctor may also refer to this as seasonal allergies. If you have asthma and allergies the problem is likely even worse.
More than 300 hundred million people in the world suffer from asthma and it is one of the most common chronic diseases in children. Since the 1980’s and 1990’s the prevalence of asthma has almost doubled. There is a very strong correlation between asthma and allergy. The Asthma society of Canada reports 80% of people with asthma also suffer from allergic rhinitis or sinusitis and 75% of asthmatics suffer from seasonal allergies. The two conditions, asthma and allergy frequently overlap, as several of the same allergens are known to trigger asthma and seasonal allergy flare ups. Effective treatment of seasonal allergies can reduce asthma symptoms and may even help prevent the development of asthma.
Treatment of seasonal allergies should almost always start with trying an allergy pill. I recommend trying a once a day pill, which is non-drowsy. All of these are available in a generic form, which makes them quite affordable. My favorite allergy pill is desloratidine. It has shown to be slightly more effective in treating symptoms in the nose and eyes, compared to the other allergy pills in its class. It is non-drowsy and can conveniently be taken once daily.
Inhalers are a very effective tool in preventing asthma and allergy symptoms, and treating asthma attacks. They are very safe as well, with minimal side effects, even in children. If you do not have regular asthma symptoms it is still important to use your controller inhalers to prevent symptoms and use your reliever inhalers to open your airways when you are short of breath
The pills we use for asthma can also be very effective in treating allergy symptoms. Leuktorienes, which are found in our body, are involved in asthmatic and allergic reactions to sustain inflammation. Inflammation and mucus production in asthma is exactly what we do not want because it makes it harder to breathe. The pills work against leukotrienes to prevent the inflammation, which is what is causing the shortness of breath. Canadian asthma guidelines recommend the use of these medications when asthma is not controlled adequately by low doses of inhaled steroids. They are also recommended as an alternative in patients who cannot or will not use inhalers.
Singulair or montelukast is a once daily pill which is available for children and adults. These medications have shown to be quite safe with few side effects. A generic version of Singulair became available on May 24, making it much more affordable. In my opinion treating asthma and allergies with pills is too often not considered. From my experience, they seem to work well in Asthmatics who have a hard time controlling their breathing, when seasonal allergies flare. It is also a good treatment option if you find yourself using high doses of your inhalers. Within a month of two of trying the medication the asthmatic should know whether it is effective or not.
If you are waking up at night from shortness of breath, have frequent coughing episodes or are unable to exercise because of you cannot breath, your asthma is not controlled. Seasonal allergies may be contributing to your symptoms. Trevor Shewfelt and I are both certified respiratory educators and we may be able to help you breathe better. Please feel free to ask for help.
As always if you have any questions or concerns about these products, ask your pharmacist.
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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.