More than 50 million people suffer from allergies each year with an annual cost in excess of $18 billion. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States.
If you are one of the sneezing, sniffling, "I'm-just-feeling-miserable" victims of allergies, be forewarned that many medications have potentially dangerous side effects. Here are some examples:
- Dementia. Some of the older generation antihistamines such as Benadryl and Atarax cross the blood brain barrier, which makes them more sedating, says Dr. Andy Nish, an allergy expert from Gainesville, Georgia, tells Newsmax. "They also have other side effects such as dry mouth and trouble urinating. Long term use of these older generation antihistamines has been linked to increased risk of dementia, although the risk is relatively small." The newer generation antihistamines such as Allegra, Zyrtec, Xyzal, and Claritin cross the blood brain barrier minimally, so they are safer.
- High blood pressure. Nish says that decongestants can cause elevated blood pressure and heart rate in addition to dry mouth. "People with high blood pressure and heart disease should use decongestants with caution, if at all."
- Diabetes. Oral steroids that are given in milligram doses can cause diabetes, osteoporosis, glaucoma, cataracts, high blood pressure, and a number of other problems, says the expert. Inhaled steroids, which are administered in smaller, microgram doses that are 1,000 times weaker and do not go body-wide, may increase the risk of osteoporosis but are highly unlikely to increase the risk of diabetes. "I recommend bone density scans for those on frequent use of oral steroids or long-term inhaled steroids," says Nish.
- Sleep issues. People taking an antihistamine like Benadryl may welcome the side effect of drowsiness, which can give them some relief from their allergy symptoms. However, Dr. Philip Alapat, assistant professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, warns that the use of these medications can cause serious health issues, especially among the elderly. "Use of antihistamines can lead to sleep walking and other parasomnias," he says. "That can definitely occur with Benadryl just as with other hypnotic agents like Ambien." And while antihistamines can make you fall asleep, the overall quality of sleep is usually not very good, he says. Sometimes, they even have the opposite effect and can cause hyperactivity, especially in children.
In addition, a medicine called montelukast, known as Singulair, used to treat asthma, has been shown to have emotional side effects such as hostility, aggression, agitation, anxiety and depression according to Medical News Today.
"Basically, nasal steroids and the newer generation of antihistamines carry a very low risk of dangerous side effects and tend to be very effective," says Nish. "In addition, seeing an allergist can help you identify what you are allergic to so you can take appropriate avoidance measures. Allergy shots or oral immunotherapy can also be very effective in controlling allergies and asthma."
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