Preventing allergic reactions and treating allergy symptoms can be a difficult task to manage. With many types of medications available for all levels of treatment, a simple trip to the pharmacy could be very confusing indeed. It’s important to understand, when managing allergies, the differences between the many varieties of medicinal treatments.
What’s the Best Treatment?
Allergic reactions can weaken the immune system and cause a whole host of unpleasant symptoms such as nasal congestion, sneezing, wheezing, skin rashes or hives, and can even lead to sinusitis. It’s important to manage allergies before they become a problem, with either natural or medicinal prevention.
Before beginning any treatments, however, an allergy sufferer should work with his or her doctor to identify triggers, lessen exposure to those triggers, and decide upon the best personal course of action to prevent reactions. Certain medical conditions (pregnancy, diabetes, advanced age) and current medications may influence the treatment course that’s best.
What Are the Options?
For many, it might be necessary to try many types of medications before determining the most effective course, with the least bothersome side effects (Mayo Clinic). Try one product for a few months and then switch if necessary (MacNaughton). Some medications are available over the counter, while others require a prescription.
- Corticosteroids prevent and treat inflammation by blocking allergic reactions, but often require prescriptions. They are available as pills (Prelone), nasal corticosteroid sprays (Flonase, Nasonex), inhalants (Aerobid, Flovent), eye drops (Maxidex), and skin creams (Cortaid, Kenalog). Side effects vary on the delivery method but can include headaches, mouth dryness, eye irritation, or skin irritation.
- Antihistamines are the most common variety, with many options available over the counter. These work by blocking histamines, chemicals in the body that over-react to allergy triggers, and lessening symptoms (MacNaughton). So-called “first generations” such as Benadryl have been known to cause drowsiness. Newer “second generations” (Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec) have fewer side effects and can be purchased in generic form (MacNaughton).
- Decongestants, such as Sudafed, provide “quick, temporary relief of nasal and sinus congestion” but do little to prevent further symptom development (Mayo Clinic). Some medications, such as Zyrtec-D or Claritin-D, will work both fronts: decongestion and antihistamine coverage. These are best used during the worst flare-ups but not for the long term.
- Singular (montelukast), available by prescription, blocks symptom-causing chemicals called leukotrienes (Mayo Clinic). Taken orally, it relieves allergy symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing, but has many side effects such as respiratory infection. The FDA recently warned that leukotriene-blocking medications may cause psychological symptoms as well (Mayo Clinic).
- Immunotherapy (allergy shots) work to desensitize the body to specific allergens and decrease or eliminate the need for medications. These may take three to five years to take effect.
- Emergency epinephrine shots should only be used for life-threatening allergic reactions. Those with serious allergies that could lead to anaphylaxis may need to carry these devices (EpiPen or Twinject) with them at all times. Emergency treatment should be sought immediately after injection with an epinephrine shot.
Natural remedies, such as herbal supplements, which can offer symptom relief for some allergy sufferers without troublesome side effects. Herbs like butterbar, nettle, and quercetin may act as antihistamines for many. Other natural therapies are available, including nasal irrigation, which flushes the sinus cavities of mucus and irritants.