How not to lose your head over winter allergies - (1/3/2023)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The woman pushed herself toward the pharmacy counter. The pharmacist did not recognize her with two surgical masks stuffed with Kleenex, a knit cap covering her head and ears, and two reddened eyes. Then, the person tried to say something. “Mmmschtick!” “Beg pardon?” responded the pharmacist. She then pulled up her masks and yanked the creampuff-sized wad of tissue away from her mouth and squeaked, “I am sick!” “Misty!!” exclaimed the pharmacist. “Got any clue what you got? Tell me your symptoms.” 

This time of year, people head for the pharmacy with a basketful of physical complaints. That’s why cold and cough medicines are packed with 5 or 6 ingredients, in the hope that a couple of them might quell the patient’s symptoms. Triage is the practice of sorting sick patients into categories of priority for treatment. The classic TV show MASH uses this principle to assess battlefield injuries according to treatment urgencies: “Bandage up the patient and set him aside,” “Get him into surgery fast,” or “Start IV saline (or dextrose) STAT!!”

The pharmacist finds triaging to be helpful in assessing a struggling person’s condition. He first asked, “Did you take a COVID-19 test?” Misty nodded her head up and down, followed by a thumbs-down hand gesture. Then, the pharmacist pulled his temp gun from his smock pocket and aimed it at her head. “All right, no fever,” he said. ”Are you tired?” She stuck out her hand a slightly rocked it back and forth. “OK, ‘so-so’ means you are just a bit tired?” Misty gave him a thumbs-up sign. “Does your body ache?” Misty shook her head no. Then she let out a snotty sneeze that would have rocked the entire seismic department at MIT. “Ah, allergies?” Misty gave him two thumbs up. We have a winner!     

While colds, influenza, and COVID-19 swirl around us like bedeviled snow twisters, allergies are a bit more specialized. Unlike grumpy brown bears who hibernate all winter, not tormenting us, the allergens that have enjoyed the outdoors during the warmer months scoot indoors to set up shop. Some widespread indoor allergy triggers include 1) Dust mites in bedding. When you turn on your furnace, their poop becomes airborne, and you suck it up your nose. Ah-choo! (a-chís! in Spanish, or at-choum! in French). 2) Mold is a fungus that adores damp basements and bathrooms. When mold spores are set into orbit around your tightly sealed home and get into the air, they can trigger allergy symptoms. 3) Most of us are not allergic to animals as such. However, there is a protein in Fido’s and Fluffy’s dander, saliva, and urine which can turn your eyes into a crimson Niagara Falls.  

Unlike treatments for the flu, COVID, or a cold, antihistamines will likely work for indoor allergies. Ask the pharmacist about cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), fluticasone nasal spray (Flonase), or anything else the pharmacist might recommend. In terms of influenza and COVID viruses, if it has not been beaten into you that there are vaccines for these possibly crippling infections, then here is one more blow to your consciousness: Get vaccinated. Jeez! It’s free. It can save your life and the lives of those around you who are more vulnerable to hospitalization and death. Do you really want to be the person at your grandpa’s funeral with the dopey look on your face because you were too busy or too scared of a 1-inch needle to get the shots that could have saved HIS life? 

BTW, this is Misty’s first winter up north. So, she could not predict that a hermetically sealed living space would trigger allergies that would reduce her to a puddle of mucus. Should she drop off Fido and Fluffy in a field somewhere and bid them adieu so she could get some relief? Heck, no! Just listen to the science. Hear the recommendations. Make your life easier, not tragic. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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