Allergy drug offers new choice

Heather Owens

Allergy sufferers have a new weapon in their fight against the sniffles and sneezes of allergy season.
Allegra, a new allergy drug recently approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, will soon be on the market. University Professor of Medicine and practicing allergist Dr. Malcolm Blumenthal said the treatment provides a better option for allergy patients who don’t want to be drowsy as a result of their medication.
“It’s good to have a choice,” Blumenthal said. Allegra is the latest addition to a market, which already includes four other non-sedating antihistamines. Blumenthal said that, though they are similar, subtle differences among the medications make one more effective for a particular patient than another. The presence of Allegra on the market means some patients will receive a better match. Medications should be “tailored to the person,” said Blumenthal, who has been an allergist for 30 years.
Allergies are caused by the body’s reaction to allergens, which enter the body through breathing, eating and skin contact. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, allergies affect as many as 50 million people.
According to a statement released by Hoechst Marion Roussel, the company behind Allegra, seasonal allergies are chronic conditions that are most acute during spring and fall. The most common of these allergies are caused by molds, grass pollens and ragweed pollen.
Nasal problems are the most typical allergy symptom, but patients also report itchy, watery eyes and inflammation of the sinuses or ears. Allergies are often undiagnosed and untreated because people mistake their symptoms as being related to a cold or the flu.
Allegra was developed as the result of concerns about the side effects associated with the use of Seldane, a popular prescription antihistamine manufactured by Hoechst Marion Roussel, Allegra’s creators. Blumenthal said Seldane interferes with the breakdown of other drugs in the liver.
When Seldane was given with another drug, “It prevented the other drug from being metabolized,” Blumenthal said. This led to dangerous side effects. For example, when Seldane is given with Erythromycin, a common antibiotic, the combination is known to cause cardiac arrithmias, a potentially lethal condition. Increased awareness of Seldane’s dangers allowed Clariton, the drug’s primary competitor, to capture the leadership position in the market.
Allegra, which is derived from Seldane, is able to prevent allergic reactions without involving the parts of Seldane that caused problems in the past.
Allegra is a non-sedating antihistamine, which means that it will not cause drowsiness. It is a choice for those who suffer from hay fever, hives or sneezing because of allergies, Blumenthal said. Allegra will be available by prescription in mid-to-late August.