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No more sneeze 'n' snooze.


Antihistamines have been used for over 50 years by allergy sufferers to relieve the usual symptoms associated with allergic reactions: itching, runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and stuffiness. Although they worked well, these so-called "first generation anthihistamines" also caused a lot of drowsiness, psychomotor impairment and loss of ability to think clearly (which is why manufacturers of such medicines warn buyers not to use them before driving or operating heavy machinery). Now, however, it appears as though one can probably defuse atomic weaponry under the influence of new, "second generation antihistamines" developed to control allergy symptoms just as well as the first generation medicines, but with none of the usual drowsiness effects.

When the body comes in contact with something it is allergic to--say, cat hair or ragweed pollen--its cells release an irritating substance called histamine, which in turn causes allergy symptoms to occur. Both generations of antihistamines act to block the action of histamine in the body, but they differ in how they go about it. For example, first generation antihistamines enter the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and cause a slowdown in the nervous system's functions, thus the drowsiness and lack of coordination. The second generation antihistamines, on the other hand, do not enter the central nervous system at all, thus no sleepiness.

Dr. Eli O. Meltzer, clinical professor of pediactrics at the University of California, San Diego, reports that the second generation antihistamines are "obviously important to youth who need to be alert and attentive in school, to adults who perform potentially hazardous tasks such as driving and are also involved in cognitive tasks, and to the elderly, who need to avoid any impairment of their abilities or reaction time." His studies also show that the medication needs only to be taken twice a day to be effective, and that long term usage does not cause the user to build up a tolerance to the medication.

The only drug from this new category of medicines approved for use in the U.S. is terfenadine, a.k.a. Seldane. Although more expensive than the older antihistamines, it should decrease the amount of accidents and school and work absences otherwise seen with the first generation antihistamines. (Immunology and Allergy Practice, December 1988; 10:454-456.)
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Title Annotation:2nd generation antihistamines
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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