by Neeta Ogden Every year, forecasters seem to predict that the worst-ever allergy season is ahead. And year after year, the pollen counts indeed get worse, partly because of climate change. Spring allergy season brings 50 million sneezing and wheezing Americans to pharmacy aisles, health food stores and doctors’ offices looking for relief. But the causes and treatments of seasonal allergies are still the subject of some persistent myths. Here are the biggest ones.
Myth No. 1
Taking allergy medicine daily can make it stop working.
Allergists like me constantly confront patients who believe this — and who don’t take their medication properly as a result. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s online “Ask the Expert” feature even fielded a question from a physician recently asking if “daily antihistamines . . . can result in tolerance.”
But multiple studies have debunked this concern. While it is a common complaint among allergy sufferers, the reality is that taking daily allergy medications does not lead to tolerance. Patients who think their medicines aren’t working anymore may be finding that their symptoms are getting worse because of new allergies or a move to a new city or home. Longer, more intense allergy seasons may mean medicines that used to work well are no longer as effective. Some allergy sufferers don’t take their medication correctly or believe wrongly that all medications are the same.
There is some overuse of some over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays, which offer temporary, quick relief of congestion. Doctors often see dependence on these sprays, especially when treating chronic nasal congestion — which can affect sleeping, eating and general quality of life. Continued use of these types of sprays can actually cause rebound congestion and worsening nasal congestion, called rhinitis medicamentosa. To avoid this, people should stop using these sprays after three days. But intranasal steroids, a cornerstone of seasonal allergy treatment, are not habit-forming and can be used throughout the spring.
Myth No. 2
Blooming spring flowers cause allergies.
Media coverage of spring allergy season routinely includes images of allergy sufferers next to bright flowers. “With spring flowers come allergies,” the local NBC affiliate in Helena, Mont., reported last month. Patients often tell me they think pollen from dogwood and cherry blossoms, among other classic spring blooms, is causing their sneezing.
Actually, springtime allergies are caused by tree pollen, not flowers. The most