Can OTC Medications Prevent Your Sinus Flareups?

Every spring, Denise Wilson tweaks her daily routine. Instead of running outdoors, she hits the gym. She puts on the air conditioner rather than open a window for fresh air. And she tucks her contacts into a drawer and switches to eyeglasses.

Wilson says these are absolute musts if she’s going to get through allergy season. Otherwise she’s bombarded with congestion, coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, an irritated throat, and asthma brought on by exercise.

“I usually don’t let myself get to that point anymore,” Wilson says. Instead of waiting for symptoms to blossom, she starts her allergy medicine before the season begins.

She’s on to something. When you use meds early you may ease your symptoms all spring, says Bela B. Faltay, MD, chief of service of allergy at Akron General Health System, in Ohio. “Within a week or two lead time, you’ll feel better all season.”

High season usually kicks into gear when the thermometer hits 60 degrees for 3-4 days. When that happens, pollen from plants starts moving through the air — and your allergy misery begins. It depends on where you live, but that’s typically early April. To get a head start, try taking medication in mid- to late March.

Allergy Drugs

To get one the right one for you, it might take a bit of trial and error. A drug that works great for your neighbor may be a bust for you.

Antihistamines. These can help if you’re sneezing, have a runny nose, or your nose and eyes are itchy:

  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • Desloratadine (Clarinex)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)

Some antihistamines may make you drowsy. Find out what your doctor recommends.

Decongestants. They can come to the rescue when you’re all stuffed because they shrink the lining of the passages in your nose. You can try a nasal spray or a pill. Some options to choose from:

  • Pseudoephedrine (Afrin, Sudafed)
  • Triprolidine/pseudoephedrine (Actifed)

Decongestants work fast, but they can lead to a “rebound effect,” which means your symptoms may get worse from using them too much. “They can be great in a pinch, once in a while,” Faltay says. “To stay safe, stop using them after 3 days.”

Nasal corticosteroid sprays. You spritz them into your nose, and they can give you relief from stuffiness and sneezing, but they may take a few days or weeks to kick in. Examples are:

  • Fluticasone (Flonase)
  • Mometasone furoate monohydrate (Nasonex)
  • Triamcinolone (Nasacort)

Eyedrops. They work fast — about 15 to 20 minutes — when your eyes are itchy and watery, and they may prevent symptoms, too. But for some folks, they may cause stinging or a headache. Some you can try are:

  • Alcaftadine (Lastacaft)
  • Azelastine (Optivar)
  • Ketotifen fumarate (Zaditor)
  • Naphazoline/pheniramine (Visine-A)