Allergies

Allergies Articles

The risk of inactive ingredients in everyday drugs

Inactive ingredients serve many purposes in medications. For example, artificial sweeteners mask a bitter taste, fatty acids help promote the absorption of some drugs, and lactose and other sugars bind ingredients together. But inactive ingredients may also cause adverse reactions, such as an allergic response or gastrointestinal symptoms. It’s best to carefully read a medication’s ingredient list before taking the pill, and consult a doctor if there are any ingredients that are a concern. (Locked) More »

Nothing to sneeze at

Older adults can develop seasonal allergies—also known as hay fever, even if they never had them before. The best ways to help avoid allergy symptoms and manage their severity is to track the daily pollen count, use certain over-the-counter medication as needed, and potentially take allergy vaccines to build up resistance to specific allergens. More »

Choosing an over-the-counter allergy medication

The options can be confusing. Try this approach when symptoms start to develop. If you're struggling with allergy symptoms, you may assume you can resolve them with an over-the-counter (OTC) remedy. And that may be true. Many pharmaceutical-grade allergy drugs once available only by prescription are now as easy to buy as aspirin. But that development forces you to become a doctor in the drugstore aisle as you try to figure out which product is right for you. "People often make the wrong decision about which medication to take and they wind up being undertreated. They try a mix of medications, but don't get relief," says Dr. Ahmad Sedaghat, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Before choosing a medication, it helps to understand what's causing your allergies. Often it's a matter of inhaling a harmless substance, such as pollen or another allergen, which the immune system mistakenly perceives as a dangerous invader. (Locked) More »

Common summer skin rashes

 Image: © LCOSMO/Getty Images Sunburn is a big risk in the summer. You know the rules: seek the shade, wear protective clothing, and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (with an SPF of at least 30). But sunburn isn't the only summer skin problem. Many people are allergic to urushiol, an oil found in poison ivy and poison oak. Exposure occurs when you touch the plant directly, maybe while gardening, or indirectly, by touching an object that's picked up the oil (like a shoe). You can spread the oil wherever you touch your body until the oil is washed off. Two to 10 days later, the affected skin develops a red, itchy, blistering, oozing rash. It's not contagious, though you may feel like it's spreading. "The allergic reaction continues to unfold even after you've washed off the oil," says Dr. Jason Frangos, a dermatologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. More »

Is poison ivy contagious?

Q. I'm very allergic to poison ivy. My spouse currently has a bad poison ivy rash that he got while trimming some bushes in our yard. I'm afraid I'm going to get a rash from him. Is it contagious? A. Good news: poison ivy rashes are not contagious. You will get a rash from poison ivy only if you come into contact with urushiol oil, which is the plant oil in poison ivy that triggers the rash. In addition, a poison ivy rash, even one with open blisters, won't spread to other areas of the body. The rash only occurs on parts of the body that were actually exposed to the plant oil. Poison ivy rashes can appear to spread if urushiol oil is trapped under your fingernails and you scratch an itch. While you can't get a rash from coming from your spouse, you can get it from clothing or other items that have the plant oil on them. For example, the clothes your spouse was wearing that came into contact with the poison ivy plant. Poison ivy oil can cling to garden tools or even pet fur. The oil from poison ivy is known to linger. According to the FDA, it can stick around on surfaces, sometimes for years, until it is washed away using water or rubbing alcohol. So be certain that all surfaces that are potentially contaminated are cleaned thoroughly to reduce your risk. — by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Hye-Chun Hur, M.D., M.P.H.Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch More »

Treatments for post-nasal drip

You thought it would never end: that tickle in the back of your throat that made you cough or have to clear your throat. It's been going on for months. And now you know why: post-nasal drip. It's a common diagnosis. It can happen for a number of reasons: allergies, viral infections (including the common cold), sinus infections, irritants in the air (such as fumes or dust). Less common causes include something stuck inside the nose (common in small children), pregnancy, and certain medications. Temporary – and normal – causes of post-nasal drip includes certain weather conditions (especially cold, dry air) and spicy foods. Whatever the cause, the problem is a steady trickle of mucus from the back of the sinuses that irritates the throat and nagging cough or other symptoms. More »