As hay fever takes hold and the sale of antihistamines surge in pharmacies across the country, an expert in the field has warned the drugs are a false economy.
Dr Paul Carson, who specialises in allergies, warned that over-the-counter hay fever drugs can mask the underlying issue and should not be used as a long-term treatment plan.
He said that while the onset of hay fever season was the busiest time for pharmacists, the large range of costly treatments could be avoided through medical treatment. "The use of antihistamines in the long term is not a good thing for treatment of people with allergies. The bottom line is antihistamines can help during sudden episodes of hay fever but as a treatment plan long term they are not a good option," he said.
"While they offer symptom relief, they mask the fact that there is a significant degree of swelling occurring whenever the nose is blocked.
"Doctors now know exactly what happens inside the nose during an allergy attack. And they now know how to reverse it," he said.
Dr Carson, who runs the Allergy Investigation, Diagnosis and Treatment facility in Dublin, warned the overuse of decongestants can increase symptoms.
"We come across it all the time. People self-medicate, particularly in the recession, they don't have the money to go to the doctor for such things. But with some decongestants, they are often doing damage which will increase the symptoms. While antihistamines won't cause increased damage, they can mask the problem," he added.
The allergy expert said no single brand of allergy relief was a proven relief.
"Some work better for some people than others. It is hit and miss and there is no way of telling which is better until the person has tried them and that's a costly business," he added.
And he warned that repeated use was a false economy.
"People should probably just use one course and then they may need to see a doctor about the issue. So many people self-medicate and we can understand the reasons, when it comes to money, but this can be very expensive without treating the actual problem," he added.
Dr Carson said doctors could put a plan in place which would reduce the risk of annual flare-ups due to hay fever, including using stronger prescription drugs. "When we use prescription drugs, we see a dramatic curb in symptoms," he added.
Pharmacies around the country have noted an increase in allergy relief medications in recent weeks. One pharmacy in Galway city said cost was a significant factor for customers. "Every second or third customer we have this week is looking for hay fever tablets ... People are definitely going for the generic brands," said one staff member.
Health & Wellbeing
For those of us affected by pollen, summer can be a very tricky time of year. Hay fever, or an allergy to grass, tree or plant pollen, can strike at any time and leave us scratching, sneezing, feeling congested and suffering from streaming eyes. And if it's bad for grown ups, it can be even more confusing for kids, and difficult to watch them suffer.