From Our 2010 Archives

Spring Allergy Relief Can Be Hard to Find

Survey Shows Most Americans Have Limited Success From Common Treatments

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

March 24, 2010 -- As the snow melts, seasonal allergy sufferers may be heading for relief indoors rather than enjoying the springtime weather.

A new survey shows 60% of people with springtime allergies have limited success treating their itchy eyes, sinus pain, and scratchy throat. For nearly one in five seasonal allergy sufferers the symptoms are so bad that they miss work.

Many of the respondents said none of the main strategies for coping with allergy symptoms, including avoidance, prescription drugs, or over-the-counter medications, were completely successful at relieving their allergy misery. The survey did not include questions about allergy shots (immunotherapy).

Researchers say despite the millions of dollars spent on direct-to-consumer marketing that promises instant relief from seasonal allergy symptoms, the answer is rarely that simple.

"Seasonal allergies affect all parts of the upper respiratory system plus the eyes," says Marvin Lipman, MD, chief medical adviser at Consumer Reports, which conducted the survey, in a news release. "There's usually no single magic bullet."

But getting advice from a doctor may help. The survey showed nearly 60% of those who discussed their seasonal allergies with a health care provider said they were highly satisfied with their treatment.

The survey, conducted in April 2009 with 1,814 adults in the U.S. who typically experience spring seasonal allergies, showed that April and May were the worst months for spring allergy sufferers.

Researchers found pollen was the most commonly cited source of seasonal allergies (79%), followed by grasses (59%), ragweed (54%), and trees (52%). Nearly a quarter of those surveyed reported allergies to each of these allergens.

Only 40% of spring allergy sufferers said they were completely or very successful at managing their allergy symptoms in the previous allergy season.

Itchy eyes were the most common symptom (87%), followed by sneezing (80%), runny nose (77%), and watery eyes (73%).

Nearly half of all respondents said their allergy symptoms, when at their worst, interfered "a lot" with at least some aspect of their daily lives, such as participating in outdoor activities, sleep, mobility, ability to think or concentrate, social activities, and their relationship with their partner.

Looking for Allergy Relief

The results showed avoidance was the most popular type of treatment tried (74%), followed by over-the-counter medicines (70%) and prescription drugs (59%).

Avoiding pollen and other allergens isn't always easy though. Researchers found only one in five respondents was highly satisfied with the avoidance measures they tried, such as staying inside with the air conditioner on and doing outdoor activities on low-pollen days. But when these tactics worked, they were more effective than taking over-the-counter medications.

Researchers say staying inside is most important between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when allergen levels are highest. If the air conditioner is on, it should be set to recirculate to reduce the amount of allergens entering the system.

The average number of allergy medicines used by the participants was three; 26% of respondents said they took five or more medications to treat their allergy symptoms.

Nearly two-thirds who used prescription or over-the-counter medicines reported at least one side effect, such as drowsiness and dry mouth. Side effect frequency was similar among the two groups -- 64% of those using over-the counter medications and 65% of those taking prescription medication experienced side effects.

Those who had discussed their seasonal allergies with a doctor were much more likely to have taken a prescription allergy medication (84% vs. 48%). They were also more likely to have found a highly satisfactory prescription medication or avoidance measure to relieve their allergy symptoms.

The most popular prescription medications mentioned in the survey were steroid nasal sprays, such as Flonase and Nasonex, and the pill Singulair.

The over-the-counter allergy medications taken most often by people with spring allergies were the antihistamines Benadryl Allergy, Claritin, and Zyrtec, and the decongestant Sudafed.

SOURCES: Gopoian, D. "Springtime Allergies and Their Treatments: April 2009 Nationally Representative Survey," March 2010.

News release, Consumer Reports.

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