“Runny nose, hay fever, watery eyes, sneezing, postnasal drip, skin irritation, and skin rashes are common ailments that pharmacists are often asked for advice on,” said Chukwu. “Fortunately, there are effective self-medication options that pharmacists can recommend to combat these unpleasant symptoms when allergies are getting patients down. Various types of affordable antihistamines are available without a doctor’s prescription, depending on the patient’s requirements.”
Histamines are chemicals released by the body in response to environmental irritants, setting off a response from our immune systems causing streaming eyes and noses, swelling, itching, and a whole range of uncomfortable allergic symptoms. “Antihistamines are medicines that block histamines to reduce the body’s unpleasant reaction to allergens, such as pollen, dust, pet dander, or certain foods,” Chukwu said.
“Self-medication antihistamines can be most helpful in the short-term, however persistent hay fever (allergic rhinitis), usually requires long-term treatment involving a combination of prescribed medicines.” If the symptoms don’t resolve within a few days, recommend your patient consult their GP or an allergist to ensure the most appropriate treatment plan.
Chukwu warned that some patients are histamine intolerant, which can present similar symptoms to seasonal allergies. “For people who have histamine intolerance, it is advisable to avoid fermented dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt, and alcohol as this can aggravate their symptoms,” he said.
Certain types of antihistamines can also be effective for treating nausea and dizziness associated with motion sickness or vertigo. “Motion sickness, sometimes called travel sickness, is often experienced by passengers travelling in cars, boats, trains, or aeroplanes. Some people may be more prone to motion sickness than others. In general, these antihistamines should be taken two hours before travel to prevent motion sickness.
“Vertigo, on the other hand, is characterised by a ‘spinning’ sensation, often described as feeling like one’s surroundings are moving around dizzyingly. In some cases, vertigo can badly affect a person’s balance and cause extreme nausea,” he said.
“Like any medicine, antihistamines have a variety of side effects. Some of the more common are drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, sedation, constipation, and dry eyes. If a patient is concerned about drowsiness, pharmacists can recommend later generation antihistamines that do not have this side effect.”
Chukwu warned that extreme caution should be taken for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and children when using antihistamines. Similarly, people who are taking certain medications, including some medicines prescribed for high blood pressure, are also advised to use self-medication antihistamines with extreme caution.
“Self-medication antihistamines are only meant to be used for a short period of time. Although they have low potential for addiction, if taken for a long period of time first generation antihistamines might lead to a person developing a tolerance to them, as well as more adverse effects. It is crucial that any medicine is only ever used in accordance with a manufacturer’s recommended dosage and instructions,” Chukwu concluded.