Spring into Action Against Seasonal Allergies
Allergies are diseases of the immune system that cause an overreaction to substances called allergens. People who have allergies can live healthy and active lives. Good allergy treatment is based on the results of your allergy tests, your medical history, and the severity of your symptoms. It can include three different treatment strategies: avoidance of allergens, medication options, and immunotherapy (allergy shots).
Avoiding Your Allergens
The best way to prevent allergy symptoms and minimize your need for allergy medicine is to avoid your allergens as much as possible and to eliminate the source of allergens from your home and other environments. For tips on allergen avoidance, talk to your doctor.
Some people don’t take allergy medicines because they don’t take their symptoms seriously. The result may be painful complications, such as sinus or ear infections. Don’t take the risk. There are so many safe prescription and nonprescription medicines to relieve allergy symptoms. Following is a brief list of medications taken for allergies. They are available in nonprescription and prescription form:
Antihistamines and decongestants are the most common medicines used for allergies. Antihistamines help relieve rashes and hives, as well as sneezing, itching, and runny nose. Prescription antihistamines are similar to their nonprescription counterparts, but many of them do not cause drowsiness. Decongestant pills, sprays, and nose drops reduce stuffiness by shrinking swollen membranes in the nose.
Some people don’t take allergy medicines because they don’t take their symptoms seriously. The result may be painful complications.
It is important to remember that using a nonprescription nasal decongestant spray more than three days in a row may cause the swelling and stuffiness in your nose to become worse, even after you stop using the medicine. This is called a rebound reaction. Some nonprescription “cold” medicines combine an antihistamine, a pain reliever like aspirin or acetaminophen, and a decongestant. Aspirin can cause asthma attacks in some people. Don’t take a chance. If you have asthma, talk with your doctor before taking any nonprescription allergy medicine.
Eye drops may provide temporary relief from burning or bloodshot eyes. However, only prescription allergy eye drops contain antihistamines that can reduce itching, tearing, and swelling.
Corticosteroid creams or ointments relieve itchiness and halt the spread of rashes. Corticosteroids are not the same as anabolic steroids that are used illegally by some athletes to build muscles. If your rash does not go away after using a nonprescription corticosteroid for a week, see your doctor.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays help reduce the inflammation that causes nasal congestion without the chance of the rebound effect found in nonprescription nose sprays.
Epinephrine is the only medication that can help during a lifethreatening anaphylactic attack. Epinephrine must be given within minutes of the first sign of a serious allergic reaction.
Cromolyn sodium prevents the inflammation that causes nasal congestion. Because it has few, if any, side effects, cromolyn can be safely used over long periods of time.
Oral corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce swelling and stop severe allergic reactions. Because these medications can cause serious side effects, you should expect your doctor to carefully monitor you.
Epinephrine comes in pre-measured, self-injectable containers, and is the only medication that can help during a life-threatening anaphylactic attack. To be effective, epinephrine must be given within minutes of the first sign of a serious allergic reaction.
New prescription and nonprescription drugs are approved periodically. If the prescription you are taking is not on this list, ask your doctor which category (above) it falls into, so that you can refer to this list.
Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots)
When it is not possible to avoid your allergens and treatment with medications alone does not solve the problem, immunotherapy can often prevent allergy symptoms. It involves giving a person increasingly higher doses of an allergen over time. For reasons that we do not completely understand, the person gradually becomes less sensitive to that allergen. This can be effective for some people with hay fever, certain animal allergies, and insect stings. It is usually not effective for allergies to food, drugs, or feathers, nor is it effective for hives or eczema.
Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, March/April 2010.