Allergy Treatments

Written by Brian Krans | Published on September 14, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Introduction to Allergy Treatments

Allergy symptoms occur when your body encounters a substance it believes to be harmful. This triggers a response from the immune system. Depending on the allergen, the response can range from watery eyes to life-threatening breathing problems.

In some cases, simply avoiding allergens can help manage symptoms. When allergies are severe, or when allergens are unavoidable, medical treatment may be necessary. Treatments can help control this reaction or block allergens from affecting your body. Allergy treatments are prescribed by a doctor or allergist, but can come in over-the-counter varieties as well. There are several different types of treatments for allergy symptoms.

Purpose of Allergy Treatments

Allergies cannot be cured. The primary way of dealing with ongoing allergies is by avoiding allergens. For example, if you are allergic to peanuts, you need to avoid peanuts as much as possible.

Treatments are available for cases when an allergen cannot be avoided, such as with pollen or dust. Some of the most common allergy treatments are for people with seasonal allergies, or hay fever. Most people cannot avoid the outdoors for months at a time, so they rely on treatments to minimize their symptoms.

There are numerous kinds of allergies. The most common allergy triggers are:

  • animal products: pet dander, dust mite waste, cockroaches
  • drugs: penicillin, “sulfa” drugs (a class of antibiotics)
  • foods: the most common food allergens are wheat, nuts, milk, shellfish, dairy and eggs
  • insect stings: bees, wasps, mosquitoes
  • mold: airborne spores from mold
  • plant: pollens from grass, weeds, and trees, as well as resin from plants such as poison ivy and poison oak
  • other: metals, such as copper, or latex

Types of Allergy Treatments

There are several ways to treat allergies. The most effective way—especially for food allergies—is avoiding the allergen entirely. This, however, isn’t always possible.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is one way to treat allergies. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), this involves a series of shots over a span of a few years. These shots contain extracts from allergens that cause hay fever symptoms or allergic asthma. The goal is to allow the body to slowly become used to the allergens so your immune system doesn’t overreact and create troublesome symptoms (ACAAI).

Medication

There are numerous types of allergy medications. They include:

Corticosteroids: These drugs reduce the release of chemicals in your body that cause allergy symptoms. They come in nasal sprays, inhalers, eye drops, creams, and pills. Each are geared to treat specific symptoms.

Antihistamines: Histamines are a chemical released by your immune system when it comes in contact with an allergen. Antihistamines block the chemical. These are available in pills, liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops.

Decongestants: These drugs are used to treat nasal and sinus congestion, a common symptom of allergies. They are used for quick, temporary relief, but should not be used by pregnant women or people with high blood pressure. They are available over the counter in pills, liquids, sprays, drops, and eye drops.

There are other medications on the market that help block symptom-causing chemicals. Montelukast (Singulair) is an oral medication used to stop hay fever symptoms, while cromolyn (Nasalcrom) helps to prevent the symptoms before they start.

Natural and Homeopathic Remedies

Some people use acupuncture to treat allergies, among other conditions, and swear by its methods, while others see no relief from their symptoms. Acupuncture is an ancient form of alternative medicine that utilizes thin, solid needles at different points on the body.

Besides medication and avoidance, there are numerous therapies that bill themselves as allergy treatments. Many of these remedies claim to be “natural” or “homeopathic,” but lack evidence of their effectiveness. Buyers need to be wary of these claims and that few have scientific backing of their claims.

No matter the source of your allergy treatments—from homeopaths to your neighborhood pharmacy—the best treatment should always be discussed with your doctor.

Following Up After Allergy Treatments

There is no cure for allergies, and it may take a bit of time before you find the right treatment. Working with your doctor or allergist, as well as learning how to spot where potential allergens lurk, makes for optimal allergy treatment.

If you experience negative side effects or an allergic reaction to allergy medications (strange sounding, but very possible), talk with your doctor about your treatments.

If you experience symptoms of anaphylaxis, seek immediate medical attention.

Symptoms of this severe, all body allergic reaction include:

  • chest discomfort or tightness
  • high pitched breathing sounds
  • difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • skin redness
  • itchiness
  • swelling of face, eyes, or tongue
  • wheezing
  • abdominal pain

The Risks of Allergy Treatments

As with any medication, there is a chance of overdose, but if you read the instructions on the package and follow dosing instructions carefully, you’ll be fine.

Some allergy medications may have negative interactions with other drugs, so it’s best to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about any possible side effects. For example, decongestants are popular drugs to help with sinus pressure, but they shouldn’t be taken by pregnant women or people with high blood pressure.

The best way to reduce the risks of your allergy treatments is to discuss them with your doctor. Tell your doctor about all of the medications you are taking—including over-the-counter medicines and nutritional supplements—and discuss any new treatments with him or her before beginning them.

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