Ask a Pharmacist – Allergy Edition

Pharmacist surrounded by pills with text that reads Ask a Pharmacist
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Allergy season is here! To help you out, we’d like to share with you some frequently asked questions and the pharmacists’ answers.


How can I tell if I have allergies or just a common cold?

Symptom Cold Allergy
Cough Usually Sometimes
General aches and pains Sometimes Never
Fatigue and weakness Sometimes Sometimes
Itchy eyes Rarely Usually
Sneezing Usually Usually
Sore Throat Usually Rarely
Runny Nose Usually Usually
Stuffy Nose Usually Usually
Fever Sometimes Never

How do steroid nasal sprays work?

Steroid nasal sprays are an effective treatment for most allergy symptoms.  Steroid nasal sprays reduce the allergic response of the cell types that induce allergies, mainly mast cells and eosinophils.   This results in a reduction of runny nose, postnasal drip, nasal congestion, sneezing, and itching.

Do allergy shots work?

Allergy shots are injections you receive at regular intervals over a period of 3-5 years to reduce allergy attacks.  Each allergy shot contains a tiny amount of the substance that trigger your allergic reactions, called allergens.  By adjusting the dose and your exposure to allergens, your immune system builds up tolerance to the allergen and your symptoms diminish over time.

 Can you take allergy pills and nasal spray together?

Yes.  For patients with severe allergy symptoms who cannot achieve symptom resolution with either one by itself, you can combine allergy pills and nasal sprays.  In general, steroid nasal sprays are the single most effective treatment for allergy symptoms, however, if you continue to experience troublesome symptoms with consistent use of a steroid spray you can add an over the counter antihistamine such as generic Claritin (loratadine), generic Zyrtec (cetirizine), or generic Allegra (fexofenadine).


Have any other questions?

Call the Tria Health Help Desk:


Ask a Pharmacist

Pharmacist surrounded by pills with text that reads Ask a Pharmacist
Image Source:

Thanks to the Tria Health Help Desk, patients may ask pharmacists any medication-related questions. We’d like to share with you some frequently asked questions and the pharmacists’ answers

Question: Is it OK to take leftover antibiotics to treat a current infection?

Answer: No! The antibiotic might not treat the type infection that you have and might not be the full course of therapy required. Additionally, taking antibiotics inappropriately may also cause antibiotic resistance, making it harder to treat future infections.

Question: How do I know what kind of vitamins I should take?

Answer: It would depend on your diet, lifestyle, and other medical conditions. Taking a multivitamin is a great place to start. If you have concerns about being vitamin deficient, talk with your doctor about checking certain vitamin levels.

Question: Which over-the-counter allergy products are safe to use during pregnancy?

Answer: Both Zyrtec and Claritin are safe to use during pregnancy. Make sure these products do not carry any other active ingredients, like pseudoephedrine. Talk with your doctor or your Tria pharmacist before starting any over the counter allergy product.

Question: I recently started a new medication and have had a stomach ache ever since. Am I allergic to the drug?

Answer: Stomach aches are not a sign or symptom of a medication allergy. It is usually a side effect of the drug. Try to take the medication with food to help avoid stomach upset.


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Spring Allergy Season is Here

Make sure you are prepped and ready as the pollen count rises this season! We want to help by breaking down some important items to consider when picking an over the counter nasal spray.

Nasal sprays are very popular due to their convenience and effectiveness. There are several types of nasal sprays, including:

  1. Decongestants (Afrin, etc)
  2. Antihistamines (Patanase, by prescription only)
  3. Nasal Steroid sprays (Flonase, etc).

The first choice for treatment of seasonal allergies are nasal steroid sprays which contain a safe, topical steroid as the active ingredient.  They work to decrease swelling which causes congestion, watery drippy nose and sneezing. The nasal steroid sprays are most effective when used daily for the season.  It may take a few weeks for the spray to begin working fully, but patience pays off.

This allergy season there are two new nasal steroid sprays that are new to the shelves, Flonase Sensimist and ClariSpray.  Both products contain fluticasone.  Despite looking like Claritin in terms of the colors, packaging and graphics, the ClariSpray does contain a steroid (similar to Flonase) not an antihistamine.  It is important to review the active ingredient labels when purchasing over the counter products.  This will prevent you from getting twice the amount of medication by taking similar ingredients.

Other available products over the counter include Rhinocort Allergy, Flonase Allergy Relief and Nasacort Allergy, along with the various generic store versions for many of these branded products above.  As always, you should reach out to your pharmacist to discuss what options are best depending on your symptoms.

Spring: The Season of Flowers & Allergies

Today is the first day of spring! What’s not to love about warmer weather and blooming flowers? For many, the return of pollen also marks the beginning of allergy season, which means the runny noses, watery eyes, sneezing and congestion are back.

There are several medication options available over the counter (OTC) at pharmacies that are effective in helping you control your allergies.  Most patients find relief with the use of an oral antihistamine or nasal steroids.  Over the counter antihistamines are classified according to their propensity to cause drowsiness.

 Non-drowsy OTC Medications:

  • Loratadine (Claritin®) is an anti-histamine that is dosed at 1 tablet once daily.
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra®) is an anti-histamine that is dosed at 1 tablet once daily.

Drowsy OTC Medications:

  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec®) is an anti-histamine that is dosed at 1 tablet once daily. Drowsiness may affect some individuals, but not all.
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) is an anti-histamine that may cause drowsiness and is dosed at 1-2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours. Because Benadryl® can cause drowsiness, it is recommended that the elderly avoid this particular medication. In addition, those who have a history of urinary retention, it is also recommended to avoid this medication as well because this medication can cause urinary retention.
  • Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton®) is dosed at 1-2 tablets every 12 hours. This is recommended to be avoided in the elderly as well as those with a history of urinary retention.

Nasal Sprays:

Steroid nasal sprays are used to decrease swelling in your nose so you can breathe better. These products do not make you drowsy and can be used in combination with one of the medications above.

  • Flonase (fluticasone) – Available over the counter, usual dosing is 1-2 sprays in each nostril once daily.
  • Nasacort (triamcinolone) – Available over the counter, usual dosing is 1-2 sprays in each nostril once daily.

There are many over the counter products that contain a combination of antihistamines, decongestants, cough suppressants, and pain relievers so be careful if you are choosing a combination product. If you have medical conditions such as hypertension, it is important to talk to your pharmacist before purchasing these products.

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Outsmarting Allergies

Allergies are caused by allergens such as molds, pollen, and animals. An allergen is any substance that is capable of causing an allergic reaction. Most people are familiar with the classic allergy symptoms, including:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Congestion

Seasonal allergies are triggered by outdoor allergens such as pollen and mold spores. Some people have allergies year-round due to indoor allergens from pets, mold, dust mites, and cockroach residue. Whether you have allergies year-round or only experience them during a certain season, there are steps you can take to help keep troublesome symptoms to a minimum.

Avoiding Allergens

The first step to controlling allergies is to avoid triggers. If you have seasonal allergies, you’ll want to avoid pollen and outdoor molds. Pollen can be difficult to avoid, but here are a few helpful tips:

  • Reduce the amount of time spent outside when your allergy symptoms seem to worsen. In general, tree pollens are present in the spring, grass pollens from late spring through summer, and weed pollens from late summer through fall.
  • Keep the windows of the house and car closed as much as possible during the pollen season. Pollen count tends to be higher on dry, sunny, windy days.
  • Take a shower after being outdoors to remove pollen that is stuck to hair and skin.

Depending on the allergen, making changes at home to control indoor allergens can be very helpful.  Here are a few helpful tips to reduce indoor allergy symptoms:

  • Wash your bedding every two weeks in hot water to kill any dust mites present.
  • Use a dehumidifier or the air conditioner as dust mites and mold thrive when indoor humidity is high.
  • Vacuum carpets and rugs frequently. If possible, opt for hardwood floors instead because carpets can trap animal dander.
  • Limit contact with pets and, if possible, keep them out of the bedroom and/or in an uncarpeted room.

For some people, making these changes may not always be sufficient to keep bothersome allergies at bay. Check back later this week for our complete guide to over-the-counter allergy medications!

Learn more about Tria Health by visiting our website and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.