Allergy sufferers looking for relief from hay fever misery may be looking in the wrong place.
A recent study found people dealing with seasonal allergy symptoms are more likely to skip talking to doctors or pharmacists, and instead choose the wrong kinds of over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat their sneezing, runny noses and red, itching eyes.
The result: more out of pocket spending and little relief from the miseries of allergy season.
A survey of nearly 300 Australians who were shopping in their hometown pharmacies found that among those with hay fever, just under 17 percent selected the right OTC medications to treat their symptoms, according to a study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.
Of those who participated in the survey, 68 percent had hay fever, while the rest had “non-allergic rhinitis, cold/flu symptoms, sinusitis or did not have a definitive diagnosis,” the researchers from the University of Sydney and other institutions noted.
Most of those surveyed hadn’t sought out advice on the right kind of medications to take, said the study authors.
Why you should pick the right medication
While the study was based in Australia, there’s a decent chance that people the world over are picking the wrong seasonal allergy medications.
“A high proportion of rhinitis sufferers were selecting their medications without consulting a pharmacist,” said Rachel Tan, the study’s lead author and part of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research at the University of Sydney.
“This is a global trend. While a majority of participants with hay fever were selecting their own medications, they were also experiencing moderate to severe symptoms and using inappropriate medications.”
Tan said the issue is a concern because people with hay fever, also known as rhinitis, choose to self-medicate a chronic condition that shouldn’t be trivialized.
Sixty percent of the people surveyed said their symptoms had an impact on at least one aspect of their day-to-day life, with restrictions on daily activities being the most troublesome.
A fifth of the participants also had coexisting asthma.
The result is more spending on drugs that may or may not be right as well as more missed days at work.
“The high financial costs associated with poorly managed rhinitis, including the direct treatment-related costs and indirect costs through lost wages and reduced productivity, can create a substantial socioeconomic burden for both patients and their communities,” Tan noted.
Which medication is the best for seasonal allergies?
Hay fever often comes on in spring, summer, and early fall and is caused by an allergic sensitivity to airborne pollens from grass, trees, and weeds, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.
Sneezing, congestion, runny noses and itchy, watery eyes are the most common symptoms of hay fever. It can also cause headaches and other issues. Almost 8 percent of people 18 and older in the United States have hay fever, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An estimated 2.3 percent of Americans missed work because of rhinitis, researchers with the academy also found.
Experts say nasal sprays with steroids are considered the best option for most people with hay fever, but few people picked that medication in this study.
Instead, researchers said many of the 296 participants who qualified for the study chose oral antihistamines to improve their symptoms instead of the nasal sprays.
The fact that most people in this study choose the wrong allergy medication came as no surprise to Dr. Maria Garcia-Lloret, a pediatric allergist at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
Garcia-Lloret said since many prescription allergy drugs became more widely available for OTC purchase, fewer people are visiting with physicians or consulting pharmacists about their allergies. That means people are spending more money and are left undertreated.
Garcia-Lloret also said that if a person has been diagnosed with an allergy at least once, they’ll likely think symptoms that return later in life are still due to that same kind of allergy.
However, the symptoms may be signs of other health issues.
“Sometimes, they’ve had poor sleep,” she said. “It could be a cold. It could be flu. It could be sinusitis. Even if it’s allergies, it could be complicated with bronchial asthma, and they don’t ask anyone about it. Many people tend to trivialize their symptoms.”
Garcia-Lloret said it also made sense that people chose the oral medications instead of the nasal sprays.
“People are not fond of selecting nasal steroids because they don’t like things up their nose,” Garcia-Lloret said “The word ‘steroid’ also freaks everyone out.”
Oral antihistamines can offer instant gratification, she noted, and people do feel a little better. But nasal steroids are optimal for long-term relief, Garcia-Lloret added.
“People will undertreat what they have, chug along, and live with it,” she said. “The message of this [study] is that pharmacists should be involved.”
The study on OTC medication use comes just as allergy experts said this particular season could be worse in some parts of the country, especially where there was warmer-than-usual temperatures and increased precipitation, Dr. Stacey Galowitz, DO, an allergist based in New Jersey, told Healthline.
Already about a quarter of the country is experiencing a medium to high pollen count, according to the website Pollen.com.