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You are here:  Health » Conditions and Diseases » Allergies


Allergy Treatment

People suffering from allergies yearn for treatments to decrease symptoms.

Nasal decongestants can help alleviate the symptoms of allergies. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Nasal decongestants can help alleviate the symptoms of allergies.

Allergy Treatment

Patients who suffer from allergies yearn for an allergy treatment that can decrease their symptoms and help them continue with their lives. For some, seasonal allergies are just a nuisance and over-the-counter drugs can take care of their symptoms. Other patients have severe allergies that occur year-round, which makes long-term treatment more appropriate. There are a variety of pills, liquids, sprays, drops, creams and injections that are available for allergy treatment.

Antihistamines

Since antihistamines are relatively inexpensive, they are the first line of defense for allergy sufferers. This type of drug works by blocking the body's release of histamines, which are produced in response to allergens. Over-the-counter antihistamines are recommended for short-term treatment of allergy symptoms, including runny nose, itchy eyes and hives. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness and can affect coordination, reaction time and judgment. Care should be taken when driving and operating machinery, and this suggestion is indicated on the packaging of all antihistamines. Long-term allergy treatment with antihistamines is available by prescription, with drugs such as fexofenadine (Allegra) or cetirizine (Zyrtec). Aside from oral antihistamines, there are prescription nasal sprays, such as azelastine (Astelin). Eye drops come in both over-the-counter varieties like naphazoline (Visine-A) and prescription types like olopatadine (Patanol).

Decongestants

A decongestant, another popular form of allergy treatment, acts by reducing the congestion of the sinuses. For many allergy sufferers, rhinitis and sinusitis are common symptoms, and both of these come with a stuffy nose. Decongestants help with the stuffy nose as well as eye congestion that comes with allergic conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane covering the eye). There is an assortment of over-the-counter medications to choose from. Oral decongestants come in both pill and liquid form. Examples of oral drugs are pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and promethazine (Phenergan). Decongestants also come in the form of nasal sprays, such as oxymetazoline (Afrin), but these should not be used for more than two or three days at a time because the patient's body can build up a dependence and start to rely on the drugs to keep their sinuses clear. Lastly, over-the-counter eye drops like tetrahydrozoline (Visine) are available for patients suffering from itchy eyes or redness.

There are some side effects that can occur with decongestants and these include insomnia, lightheadedness, nervousness, an increase in heart rate and a rise in blood pressure. Pseudoephedrine-based decongestants can cause more marked increases in heart rate since the drug has stimulant properties. Caution should be observed when taking decongestants for allergy treatment, and patients should report any ongoing side effects to a physician.

Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids reduce inflammation associated with allergic reactions. The most commonly used corticosteroids are nasal sprays like fluticasone (Flonase) and mometasone (Nasonex). These relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis and can help reduce sneezing. The downside to nasal sprays is that they tend to taste bad, and patients with post-nasal drip may experience an aftertaste.

According to the Mayo Clinic, other types of corticosteroids used in allergy treatment include the following:

  • Eye drops such as dexamethasone (Decadron)
  • Skin creams such as hydrocortisone (Cortaid)
  • Oral steroids such as prednisone (Intensol)

The majority of corticosteroids are available by prescription only, with the exception of some skin creams. It should be noted that the long-term use of oral steroids is not recommended because of the risk of serious side effects, such as osteoporosis.

Sometimes, asthma can occur alongside allergies, and corticosteroids are a common treatment for asthma. They are used as a preventive measure, usually in the form of an inhaler, to keep inflammation inside the lungs to a minimum. In some cases, allergic reactions can trigger asthma attacks, so patients who have this tendency need to be completely compliant with their allergy treatment medication regimens and carry an emergency albuterol (Proventil) inhaler to use if an asthma attack occurs.

Leukotriene Modifiers

Leukotriene modifiers are a newer class of drugs approved for treating allergic rhinitis. Leukotrienes are hormones produced by the body in response to allergens and are responsible for the symptoms of rhinitis and hay fever. Leukotriene modifiers are very effective in relieving nasal congestion, and are only available by prescription; one such medication is montelukast (Singulair). These are often used in conjunction with corticosteroids. Side effects can include headache, cough, dizziness, upset stomach and insomnia.

Immunotherapy

Allergy shots are known in the medical community as immunotherapy. They work the same way as vaccines; they build immunity to certain allergens by exposing the patient to small bits of the allergen over a period of time. The Mayo Clinic states that this type of allergy treatment is commonly used for allergies that are difficult to avoid, like seasonal allergies, indoor allergies and allergies to insect stings. However, they are not a valid treatment option for patients with food allergies -- the only guaranteed treatment is avoidance of the food products that trigger the reaction. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology explains that immunotherapy is divided into two phases: a buildup phase followed by a longer maintenance phase. Therapy takes years to complete and its efficacy varies from person to person.

Epinephrine Injections

The medications discussed in this article are used for treating mild to moderate allergy symptoms (with the exception of immunotherapy when used to guard against reactions to insect stings). The most extreme responses can occur after exposure to a food trigger, an insect sting or a medication and can cause a life-threatening reaction. When a reaction occurs with acute onset, it is known as anaphylaxis. Signs of this include hives and itching, flushed or pale skin, nausea or vomiting, dizziness or fainting, weak or rapid pulse and airway constriction. When airway constriction becomes severe and a patient has trouble breathing, the situation becomes life-threatening. An epinephrine injector (EpiPen, EpiPen Jr., Twinject) can immediately decrease the inflammatory response and give the patient time to get to the emergency room. Patients who have had a mild anaphylactic response at some point in their lives should carry an injector with them in case they get into trouble.

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