LAYTON -- If you head for the nearest over-the-counter medication when you start to sniffle and sneeze this season, you may want to reconsider.
Experts say many sufferers who self-medicate when allergy and asthma symptoms strike could actually be causing themselves and others harm.
Self-diagnosis and treatment greatly increases the risk of disturbed sleep, as well as other health complications, such as irritability, school and work injuries, low blood pressure, urinary retention, fatigue, decreased decision making, increased risk of motor vehicle accidents and memory impairment, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Misdiagnosed and undertreated seasonal asthma and allergy symptoms also can lead to sleep apnea, which can progress to life-threatening heart issues.
"Sleep apnea can lead to significant cardiac problems, such as increased risk of a heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke and diabetes," said Dr. Kevin McGrath, a fellow at the ACAAI. "When the body's oxygen supply is limited due to congestion or wheezing, there is an increased risk for putting strain on the heart."
Dr. Douglas Jones, who is board certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology and the American Board of Internal Medicine and practices at Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in Layton, said it is difficult to diagnose yourself with an allergy and easy to make a mistake.
There also may be additional problems, such as asthma. Most children and adults who have asthma also have allergies, he said. That becomes the main link to their asthma and further self-medicating, he said; it is just a bad idea.
"Many over-the-counter medications have more side effects than they are helpful," Jones said. "People will often medicate with them and feel the side effects and really not feel the relief from allergies."
Jones, who published a paper on the topic, said people who take Benadryl have been found to be at greater risk of occupational injury than patients who have taken sedative hypnotics or narcotics. Medications like Benadryl can impair performance more than alcohol.
The best approach to allergy and asthma treatment is through a board-certified allergist, but if you do decide to self-medicate, Jones said, Allegra and Zyrtec are the best nondrowsy over-the-counter options.
"Allergy season can peak at different times of the year depending on what someone is allergic to," he said. "Many people will have a flare-up in the spring and fall with the trees and weeds pollinating, but most people in Utah who have the most severe allergies are allergic to grass."
These allergies tend to peak in May and June. A helpful tip : When the cotton is blowing outside, it is usually peak grass season and not cottonwood season, Jones said.
"I am a firm believer that people don't have to just live with allergies and asthma. They can live without them," he said. "We have a proven method of testing and treating to help people live with minimal to no limitations and breathe easier."
The clinic will hold a free asthma screening and open house with a free dinner May 31 at the clinic. For more information, call 801-775-9800.