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Hayfever treatment and dementia?

22 Jun 2015

At the end of January this year, the Mail, Mirror, Independent and the Telegraph all ran stories on the link between Alzheimer’s and the use of anticholinergic drugs.

Several of them highlighted the possible dangers of some popular over-the-counter hayfever treatments. Now that the hayfever season is in full swing and antihistamine use is high, the issue is more pertinent than ever.

Although the connection was already known, a new study carried out by senior researchers at the University of Washington was the first to show that the higher the dose of anticholinergic drugs, the higher the risk of dementia. The US trial tracked 3,434 men and women aged 65 and over for around 7 years while monitoring their use of anticholinergic drugs.

Results showed that taking a daily dose of pills like Benadryl, Piriton and Nytol, for at least 3 years, could increase the chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease by more than 60%. Other drugs that were named were the antidepressant doxepin (Sinepin) and oxybutanin (Ditropan) for overactive bladder.

Anticholinergic drugs work by blocking acetylcholine, a chemical involved in the transmission of electrical impulses between nerve cells. People with Alzheimer’s disease are known to lack acetylcholine and it is feared the pills may exacerbate or trigger the condition.

Study leader Professor Shelly Gray, of the University of Washington School of Pharmacy said no one should simply stop taking these drugs without speaking to their doctor. “Healthcare providers should regularly review their older patients’ drug regimens, including over-the-counter medications, to look for chances to use fewer anticholinergic medications at lower doses”.

The study authors concluded, “These findings… have public health implications for the education of older adults about potential safety risks because some anticholinergics are available as over-the-counter products”.

Fortunately, many newer OTC drugs to treat conditions such as hayfever do not contain anticholinergics. Some, like Care Allergy Defence are also antihistamine and steroid-free making it appropriate for pregnant and breast-feeding women as well as for children.

Click HERE to find out more about Care Allergy Defence

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