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Asthma, Allergies and Every Breath You Take

When The Police released their popular 1983 hit, Every Breath You Take, I don’t think they had asthma or allergies on their mind.  But for those who suffer from these conditions, every breath you take is often on your mind.

May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.  Many organizations like the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the AAFA (Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America) have lots of helpful resources for you to learn more about managing these conditions.  Asthma affects about 24 million Americans, one-fourth of which are under the age of 18.  Allergies of various sorts affect more than 50 million Americans, and the numbers appear to be rising.

Medications available to treat asthma and allergies have multiplied greatly over the past 20 years.  For example, when I was in pharmacy school back in the early 1990’s the only non-drowsy antihistamine we had available for allergy sufferers was a drug called Seldane® (terfenadine).  This was removed from the market in 1998 when we discovered some very serious, potentially fatal, side effects associated with it.  But since then we have had numerous new, safe medications (like Claritin®, Allegra® & Zyrtec®) all get approved and even made available OTC (over the counter) without a prescription.

In addition to non-drowsy oral antihistamines, allergy suffers also have access to other OTC options for treating their allergies today.  Nasal steroids (like those found in Flonase Allergy Relief® or Nasacort OTC®) have been shown to be very effective for some patients at reducing the symptoms associated with allergies such as sneezing, runny nose and nasal congestion.  These are different than other nasal sprays that contain decongestants (e.g. Afrin®) which should only be used for a few days.  Finally, there are now eye drops specifically for itchy eyes caused by allergies which can now be obtained in any pharmacy.

By Jason Poquette, BPharm, R.Ph

Patients should always talk to their doctor about their allergy symptoms and check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a new medication for allergies.  Help is available!  Your symptoms don’t have to rob you of enjoying the outdoors or other environments which typically trigger an attack.  And if you have not had success with one type of treatment in the past, often switching to another medication can produce improvement. 

Asthma treatments, like allergies, have come a long way in 20 years.   I remember when pretty much all we had for asthma was a drug called theophylline and Primatene Mist®.  Some readers may recall those days as well.  While these medications served a purpose for a time, today we have significantly better and safer options for asthma patients.  New, long-acting inhalers have made great improvements in the quality of life for many individuals.    

Today I visited a patient in our hospital who currently takes 3 inhalers for his asthma.  We discussed the importance of taking his preventative inhalers regularly.  We also talked about the cost of these inhalers, and I explained to him that some inhalers have coupons from the manufacturer to help lower the copay and make them more affordable.  Patients should check out the website for the inhaler you use to see if you are eligible for such savings (they cannot be applied to prescriptions billed through a Federal or State program). 

The most important thing, whether you have asthma or allergies, is to be prepared and have a plan.  Patients should know the triggers which make their breathing more difficult and how to avoid them.  Prevent your symptoms from worsening by regularly using the medications prescribed by your doctor or your OTC treatments before symptoms begin.  And if you haven’t made an appointment with your physician or specialist about your asthma or allergies in a while, it might be a good idea to set one up. 

With the right plan and right medication, every breath you take you take can be just a bit easier, even for those with allergies or asthma.