The cons of allergy meds

Weigh up the long term when deciding on allergy treatment

Conventional treatments and remedies for allergic rhinitis (hayfever) and sinusitis are great in the short term, but have a significant downside when you look further ahead.

Does your child suffer from allergic rhinitis / hayfever? Do they have that familiar post nasal drip cough? The dry “uh uh” or even a terrible cough that sounds like they have a really bad chest cold? At the root of that cough will be, most likely, sinusitus and/or hayfever. So, how do you treat it so your child can function on a day-to-day basis?

Conventional hayfever treatment usually looks like this…

In South Africa, conventional treatment for children with hayfever (a.k.a. allergic rhinitis) and sinusitus combines an antihistamine like Deselex, Allecet or Zyrtec with a corticosteroid like Flixonase, Betnesol, Beconase and Rhinocort.

 For short periods of time, you may also use a decongestant like Iliadin, Vibrocil, Otrivin, Advil or Drixine.

 If your child has very severe hayfever or sinusitis, the doctor may also suggest allergy shots, which work by exposing their body to tiny amounts of the allergen in ever increasing doses to build up a tolerance to the allergen.

Pros of conventional allergy treatments

Antihistamines, corticosteroids and decongestants are effective and easily available, and will work quickly for most kids. As long as the medication is doing the job (they don’t always), the benefits in the short term can be quite compelling.

Cons of conventional allergy treatments

However, from a longer term viewpoint, the risks and downsides weigh more heavily against using medication on a long term basis:

  • The root cause remains: Antihistamines, corticosteroids and decongestants only work on the symptomatic inflammation caused by the allergic reaction. 
  • Requires long term use for continued symptomatic relief.
  • Comes with side-effects: Every drug has short term side-effects, and these are usually clearly communicated by the doctor, manufacturer and pharmacist:
    • Antihistamines: drowsiness (although the second-generation antihistamines don’t nearly as much) and over-dry sinuses that are more susceptible to infection
    • Corticosteroids (available as nose sprays, eye drops, injections or oral tablets) decrease inflammation by short-circuiting the immune response.By suppressing the immune system, steroids can predispose you to yeast and fungal infections, a common cause of sinusitis. Steroids may also suppress the adrenal glands, so you won’t cope as well with stress
    • Decongestants constrict blood vessels, decreasing blood flow to congested membranes in the nose and lungs. This action may also result in a raised blood pressure level and could interfere with sleep;
  • Extra oxidative stress: Your body treats any foreign substance (the medications) as an invader, and releases free radicals to try and neutralize that invader. When those free radicals have done their job, your body uses antioxidants to stop damage to other tissues. So your child’s immune system either gradually becomes malnourished over time, or you need to feed their immune system better.
  • Unknown long term side-effects: The pre-release testing that drugs undergo is not long enough to test for the side-effects that could build-up over long term use. If you only use medications, you will probably need to use them all the time to maintain the symptomatic relief they offer.



Look at allergies proactively for a different result

Please read our article Allergies: A proactive perspective (introduction) for a different approach to allergies that can help you bring them under control.

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