The effectiveness of the drug itself and of its side effects vary with the individual. Adverse effects can be heightened when other medicines or substances such as caffeine or alcohol are consumed.
Side effects can be more than just an inconvenience. Drowsiness can lead to traffic accidents, poor mental functioning, or, in the recent case of Japan’s finance minister, job loss. Shoichi Nakagawa was forced to resign his cabinet position after being accused of drunkenness at a G7 news conference in Rome. Mr. Nakagawa said that he was not drunk but that his slurred speech and apparent drowsiness were due to cold medicine combined with a little bit of wine. The Japanese public, apparently, didn’t buy that explanation. Pressure mounted until he turned in his resignation.
What are the most common allergy medicine types and the common side effects associated with them?
(Available as pills, nasal spray, and eye drops. Popular commercial products include Allegra, Benadryl, Claritin, and Chlor-Trimeton.)
Antihistamines block histamine receptors, preventing many allergic symptoms. However, this same blocking action causes drowsiness in many. Sleepiness can be amplified by alcohol or other sedatives. Dizziness and headache are also reported by some.
(Available as pills, nasal spray, and eye drops. Afrin nasal spray, Allegra-D, Sudafed, and Visine eye drops are popular commercial products.)
Decongestants shrink nasal tissues and blood vessels in the eye, which often swell during an allergic reaction. This shrinking reduces congestion and redness but may also raise blood pressure or cause insomnia, lightheadedness, or nervousness. This effect can be amplified by caffeine or other stimulants. Decongestants may also cause vaginal dryness.
(A type of steroid available as nasal sprays, eye drops, and orally, but only by prescription. Includes Budesonide and Rhinocort.)
Corticosteroids help to relieve stuffiness and sneezing. The nasal sprays may cause nose bleeds and nasal irritation, while the eye drops may cause blurred vision.
4. Cromolyn sodium
(Available as nasal sprays such as NasalCrom or as eye drops.)
Cromolyn sodium nasal spray is another type of anti-inflammatory medication that reduces the release of histamine from mast cells. Reported side effects include cough, nasal congestion, and nausea. Some eye drop users report blurred vision.
Communication is Key to Managing Symptoms and Side Effects
As your springtime allergy symptoms send you to the drug store or medicine cabinet, remember that unpleasant or dangerous side effects can be caused by both OTC and prescription drugs. Take your allergy medicine as directed by your physician, track your symptoms and side effects, and communicate with your doctor to find the medicine(s) that work best for you during the spring allergy season and year round.
You and your physician should also discuss long-term risks associated with some of these medicines. Depending on the drug and the individual, these increased risks can include osteoporosis, irregular heartbeat, weight gain, damage to blood vessels in the eye, cataracts or glaucoma, and muscle weakness.
Finally, keep in mind that DUI, Driving Under the Influence, is not limited to impairment caused by alcohol. Allergy medicines can impair your ability to drive, which can lead to a DUI arrest or worse. Or perhaps like Shoichi Nakagawa, you could lose your job and ruin your reputation.