Good allergy treatment is based on your medical history, the results of your allergy tests and how severe your symptoms are. It can include three treatment types: avoiding allergens, medicine options and/or immunotherapy (allergens given as a shot or placed under the tongue).
How Do I Avoid Allergens?
The best way to prevent allergy symptoms and limit your need for allergy medicine is to avoid your allergens as much as possible. This includes removing the source of allergens from your home and other places you spend time. You can also reduce your symptoms to airborne allergens by washing out your nose daily. You can do this by using a nasal saline rinse using a squeeze bottle or a Neti pot.
What Medicines Can I Take for Allergies?
Some people don’t take allergy medicines because they don’t think their symptoms are serious. They may say, “It’s only my allergies.” This can result in painful problems such as sinus or ear infections. Don’t take the risk. There are many safe prescription and over-the-counter medicines to relieve allergy symptoms. Here is a short list of allergy medicines:
- Nasal corticosteroids are nose sprays. They reduce swelling. Swelling causes a stuffy, runny and itchy nose. They are the most effective medicines for nasal allergies.
- Antihistamines block histamine, a trigger of allergic swelling. They can calm sneezing, itching, runny nose and hives. They come in pills, liquids, melting tablets or nose sprays. These treat seasonal and indoor allergies.
- Mast cell stabilizers keep your body from releasing histamine. This can help with itchy, watery eyes or an itchy, runny nose. They are available as eye drops or nose sprays.
- Decongestants reduce stuffiness by shrinking swollen membranes in the nose. But be careful. Using these sprays more than three days in a row may cause the swelling and stuffiness in your nose to get worse. This can happen even after you stop using the medicine. This reaction is a rebound reaction.
- Corticosteroid creams or ointments relieve itchiness and stop the spread of rashes. See your doctor if your rash does not go away after using this cream for a week. Corticosteroids are not the same as anabolic steroids used illegally by some athletes to build muscles.
- Oral corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce swelling and stop severe allergic reactions. These medicines can cause serious side effects. Expect your doctor to carefully monitor you while taking it. Oral corticosteroids are not the same as anabolic steroids used illegally by some athletes to build muscles.
- Epinephrine (ep-uh-NEF-rin) comes in a pre-measured and self-injectable device. It is the most important medicine to give during a life-threatening anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction). To work, you must get an epinephrine shot within minutes of the first sign of serious allergic reaction. It treats life-threatening allergic reactions to food, stinging insects, latex and drugs/medicines.
If you think you are having anaphylaxis, use your self-injectable epinephrine and call 911.
Do not delay. Do not take antihistamines in place of epinephrine. Epinephrine is the most effective treatment for anaphylaxis.
Some over-the-counter cold medicines are a blend of different medicines. Many include aspirin or other NSAID. Aspirin can cause asthma attacks in some people. If you have asthma, talk to your doctor before taking over-the-counter allergy or cold medicines.
New prescription and over-the-counter medicines are approved from time to time. Be sure to discuss all of your medicines with your doctor.
What Immunotherapy Treatments Are Available?
Immunotherapy is a treatment option for some allergy patients. There are two common types of immunotherapy. They are allergy shots and sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT).
Allergy shots involve giving injections of allergens in an increasing dose over time. The person becomes progressively less sensitive to that allergen. Allergy shots can work well for some people with allergies to pollen, pets, dust, bees or other stinging insects, as well as asthma. Allergy shots do not usually work well for allergies to food, medicines, feathers, or for hives or eczema.
SLIT is another way to treat certain allergies without injections. Allergists give patients small doses of an allergen under the tongue. This exposure improves tolerance to the substance and reduces symptoms. SLIT is fairly safe and effective for the treatment of nasal allergies and asthma. SLIT tablets are currently available for dust mites, grass and ragweed. Talk to your allergist if you want to learn more about SLIT. While allergy shots are fairly safe, there is a chance for a severe, life threatening allergic reaction to the injections, so they must always be given in an allergist’s office under observation from a medical professional.
Researchers are studying possible treatments for certain food allergies. These include oral immunotherapy (OIT), SLIT and other methods. These studies are still experiments. They are not proven treatments. The studies are testing the safety and effectiveness of these treatments. Before you enroll in these types of studies, talk to your allergist about the risks and benefits.
Medical Review March 2018.