The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) estimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies. As an anything but proud member of the millions, I can atest to the misery caused by allergies as well as asthma. I can also atest to the fact that there’s very little you can do to escape them entirely. The only place I’ve ever lived where I got a little glimpse of allergy-free living was on an island off the Gulf of Mexico. The only trees were Palm Trees and the grass? Well, it was sand. Of course, even then, we’d venture into the nearby towns and, for some odd reason, they insisted on having trees and grass. Go figure.
Here are a few staggering statistics about allergies:
- Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States.
- They account for annual health care costs of more than $18 billion. Hidden costs include lost work days, missed school time, and diminished leisure activities.
- The situation is actually getting worse rather than better. Cases of allergic reaction – the body’s overly sensitive immune response to a harmless substance – are on the rise.
- Allergies can actually be life-threatening, as in the case of allergic shock, or anaphylaxis.
- Due to the nastiness of Allergies as well as their rise on the horizon, countless studies are currently underway to find ways of dealing with the problem -and hopefully, in the end, winning!
Sneaky Little Effects of Antihistamines
The main, numero uno way we deal with our allergies is with antihistamines, right? Even though they make us sluggish and downright Zombie-ish, it’s preferable to sneazing our heads off. And it’s much better than the itchy, watery eyes and the itchy roof of the mouth.
However, there are some pretty nasty side-effects of taking antihistamines – especially if you have to take quite a bit. Here in Kentucky, the Fall and Spring Seasonal Allergies are murder (the trees, lush grass, and goldenrod look gorgeous, but they carry a price). Recently, I caught onto just how much Benadryl I was taking – in an effort to head-off the symptoms. I started feeling kind of lethargic and…well, just not myself. I realized that the feelings all started when I started taking the antihistamines, so I stopped taking them. I started just using eye drops and doing a few other things instead.
Then I did a little research and, sure enough, antihistamines have a nasty little reputation.
The intensity of the side effects vary from person to person, of course. Some people may be able to take them without any problems whatsoever. In fact, I really only noticed a difference when I had to take more than two doses a day. Below are some lesser-known, “sneaky” side effects of Antihistamines, outlined by Javed Sheikh, M.D., Clinical Director of Allergy at Beth Israel Deaconess and full-time faculty at Harvard Medical School.
1. Impairment of Thinking
The same antihistamine in allergy medicines that cause drowsiness and sedation can also be responsible for some cognitive impairment. You may notice that you feel sluggish, slow or not as mentally sharp as usual; your kids may have trouble functioning in school. Some people may experience difficulty driving as a result, so think twice about getting behind the wheel if you’re taking a drug that causes drowsiness.
Feeling unusually sad? A lesser-known side effect of some allergy drugs with antihistaminesis depression. The sedative in these medicines can exacerbate existing depression or aggravate underlying depression, Sheikh says. If you’re prone to the illness talk with your doctor about allergy treatments that won’t affect your mood.
If you feel a little amped up from your allergy treatment, pseudoephedrine might be to blame. This class of medication has an effect similar to drinking several cups of coffee, Sheikh says. The stimulant properties of these medicines give some people heart palpitations, insomnia and anxiety. If you’re prone to panic attacks, these types of drugs will only worsen your condition.
4. Altered Taste and Smell
If you’ve noticed your favorite foods have lost their flavor, the problem might not be your taste buds. The preservatives and fragrances added to some prescription nasal sprays can sometimes change your sense of taste and smell. You might notice things just don’t smell the same or as sharp or food is bland. Adding insult to injury, these additives can also increase your symptoms as you may be allergic to them. There are several sprays that don’t contain fragrances or preservatives, so check with your doctor.
5. Low Libido
Lost that lovin’ feelin’? Any allergy medicine that has a depressive effect can decrease your sex drive, says Sheikh. Of course, the allergy itself could be so severe that it robs you of your desire to have sex but if you suspect that your low libido is result of your allergy medicine, you should talk with your doctor.
6. Increased Appetite
Though there may be many reasons why you can’t keep your hands out of that box of cookies, taking medicines with antihistamines can stimulate your appetite. If you’re taking these medications regularly or over the long term, you may have noticeable weight gain.
7. Infertility in Women
Though there are no studies to confirm the connection, some fertility specialists believe that the drying of mucous membranes caused by some allergy drugs could lead to infertility in women. Until there is conclusive evidence, seek the advice of your doctor.
8. Long-Term Health Issues
People with skin allergies often find relief from topical steroid creams. But some prescription creams can be quite strong. The stronger the steroid, the more parts of the body it’s used on, and the longer it is used can lead to illnesses associated with long-term steroid use including decreased growth rate in kids, increased chance of developing cataracts, osteoporosis and diabetes.
ARRGHHH! Like I said, I started pulling back a little even before I read all of that. I think I was, in full prevention mode, taking more than I needed. It’s kind of a wonder I ever stayed awake. Well, actually, given my Starbucks fetish, it’s not that big a wonder.
A few things that have helped me immensely:
- Allergy Eye Drops. Sometimes that’s my only symptom – itchy eyes. But you have to buy the high end eye drops, sorry! The ones that look like regular, “red eye” drops, but have the word Allergy etched across the front really don’t do much. Go for the good stuff – it’s worth it.
- Freeze an Itchy Mouth. Have you ever had the roof of your mouth itch?! Miserable! It’s one of the most uncomfortable things ever, isn’t it? Drinking really, really, really cold water or tea helps. A Starbucks Frap makes the itching go away entirely. Okay, to be honest, so would a piece of ice…but that’s nowhere near as yummy.
- Wash Away the Allergens. It may seem like a bit of an inconvenience, but showering as soon as you come in will also help a lot. It gets the allergens off your body and hair. Also, change into something that you only wear in the house – then wash what you take off.
- Keep the Windows Shut as Much as Possible. I hate this one….okay, I don’t even do this one….but if you suffer from seasonal allergies, keeping your windows closed will help a lot. Reasonable, I guess, right?
Photo Credit: The gorgeous picture was taken by Michael Sigers (aka hubby) at Kentucky’s beautiful Land Between the Lakes. Click the pic for a larger view. Not bad, eh? Not bad ‘tall.