Allergies are a widespread condition that affects approximately one out of every five Americans. They occur throughout the year in all types of climates and can be triggered by pollen, mold spores, dust mites, animal dander, food, chemicals, medications and other environmental irritants.
With so many possible causes, finding the source of your allergic response is crucial to treating the symptoms.
There are three types of allergy treatment available.
The least invasive treatment method for allergies is avoiding the triggers responsible for your symptoms. If you are suffering from hay fever (allergies to pollen, pet dander and mold), there are a few simple things you can do to reduce these allergens in your home.
- Keep doors and windows closed, especially on windy days and during pollen season, using air-conditioning when necessary.
- Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are high; if you must go outside, wear sunglasses to keep pollen from your eyes.
- Encase your mattress and pillows in dust mite-proof cases. Wash all your bedding in hot water at least once a week.
- Remove carpeting from your home and replace with easy to clean material such as hardwood or linoleum. If the wall-to-wall carpeting cannot be removed, vacuum and shampoo the carpet regularly.
- Use only washable window coverings, such as cotton or synthetic curtains.
- During pollen season, keep your windows closed.
- Get rid of clutter; this means removing any knickknacks that sit on tables collecting dust.
- Invest in a HEPA air filtration system to remove small allergen particles from the air.
- Keep potted plants out of the house – either plant them outside or give them away.
- Avoid using a wood-burning fireplace or stove; the smoke will worsen respiratory allergies.
- Wash the sink regularly and don’t let dishes pile up; this can create a breeding ground for mold.
- Wash or replace moldy shower curtains and bathmats.
- Nasal irrigation – rinsing the nasal passages with a saltwater solution, using a bulb syringe or Neti pot – can help reduce the symptoms of hay fever.
- Keep your house at 68 F to 72 F. Dust mites and mold breed best in hot humid conditions.
- Don’t allow smoking inside your home.
- Make sure to bathe pets once a week and keep them out of your bedroom and off the furniture.
Allergy symptoms can often be relieved through the use of over-the-counter or prescription medications and nasal sprays. Medical therapy provides short-term relief and may be enough of a solution for people with seasonal allergies or those whose symptoms are not severe.
If your symptoms do not improve with the use of medications, you should consult with an allergist over alternative treatments such as immunotherapy.
How Do Antihistamines Help Allergies?
Antihistamines are often the go-to drug for treating allergy symptoms. They work by reducing or blocking histamines, chemicals produced by the immune system that are responsible for many common allergy symptoms including runny nose, stuffy nose and itchy, watery eyes.
They are available in tablets, capsules, liquids, nasal sprays and eye drops. Antihistamines can cause side effects such as drowsiness, dry mouth, dizziness and nausea, though newer generation antihistamines have fewer side effects. Popular antihistamines include:
How Do Decongestants Help Allergies?
When your allergy symptoms include a stuffed-up nose, you’re better off using a decongestant for relief. Decongestants shrink swollen blood vessels and tissues that line the nose. They can be found in pills, liquids, nasal sprays and nose drops and are available over-the-counter or by prescription.
Decongestants may increase anxiety or cause sleeping difficulty. If you have a medical condition such as glaucoma, high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disorder, diabetes or enlarged prostate, consult with a doctor before using. Common decongestants include:
In addition, many antihistamines also contain a decongestant, such as:
How Do Nasal Corticosteroids Help Allergies?
Nasal corticosteroids are nasal sprays that help to reduce inflammation of the nasal lining associated with allergies. They can be extremely effective at relieving symptoms, but may cause nosebleeds, nasal dryness and sore throat. Nasal corticosteroids are generally safe to use long-term. They are usually available by prescription only. Common brands include:
How Do Decongestant Nasal Sprays Help Allergies?
Decongestant nasal sprays are generally available over-the-counter. They provide short-term relief from nasal allergy symptoms but wear off quickly. Overuse can lead to a “rebound effect” in which symptoms worsen. Patients are advised not to use decongestant nasal sprays for longer than three days. Popular brands include:
- Vicks Sinex.
How Do Allergy Eye Drops Help Allergies?
Allergy eye drops help relieve the symptoms of eye allergies. If you are experiencing itchy or watery eyes, a burning sensation in the eyes, redness and swelling, you can benefit from either over-the-counter or prescription eye drops.
They are available in several different types including antihistamines, anti-inflammatory, decongestants and mast cell stabilizers. Some of the more common brands include:
- Clear Eyes.
- Claritin Eye.
How Do Mast Cell Inhibitors Help Allergies?
Mast cell inhibitors are medications that prevent allergy symptoms such as runny nose or itchy, watery eyes from occurring. They work by inhibiting the release of histamines the immune system produces in response to allergens such as pollen.
They are available in the form of nasal sprays and eye drops, and must be taken a week or two before the start of allergy season, and continued on a daily basis for the duration of the season.
People who suffer from allergies that don’t respond to medical treatment may find relief from immunotherapy, a method of building tolerance to an allergen by introducing it to the body in small doses over a period of time. It is usually given as injections (allergy shots), but can also be taken orally. When ingested, it is known as sublingual immunotherapy, or allergy drops.
Allergy shots (subcutaneous immunotherapy) are the most common form of immunotherapy. They can be used as a long-term treatment for seasonal, indoor and insect sting allergies.
They work by getting your body used to the allergen slowly, with the hopes that you will develop an immunity or tolerance to the allergen. The process takes place in two phases, the build-up phase and the maintenance phase.
The build-up phase involves a small amount of the allergen being injected into the upper arm once or twice a week for a few months. The dosage is gradually increased at each visit. The length of the build-up phase depends entirely on your body’s reaction.
Once you have reached the effective dose, typically the most you can handle without showing symptoms, the maintenance phase will begin. The dosage is no longer increased at each visit and the number of shots is decreased. The maintenance phase involves an allergy shot once every month for three to five years.
Are There Any Risks with Allergy Shots?
Since allergy shots contain a substance you are allergic to, there are some risks involved. Swelling and redness usually develop at the site of injection but are quick to clear up. Sneezing, nasal congestion and hives may develop as well as more severe reactions such as wheezing or chest-tightness. Anaphylaxis, the most serious reaction, rarely occurs.
Since these shots are administered in a clinical setting, any reaction that does occur can be easily treated.
What Can I Expect from Allergy Shots?
Allergy symptoms will not improve overnight; symptoms will typically improve over the first year of treatment and continue to improve over the next few years. The shots may even decrease symptoms for other allergens and prevent new allergies from developing.
Allergy drops, also known as sublingual immunotherapy, are a more effective treatment than over-the-counter pills because they combat the cause of allergies rather than the symptoms. They are also safer than allergy shots because they aren’t administered with a needle.
How Do Allergy Drops Work?
The principle of allergy drops is the same as allergy shots. It is a long-term treatment that decreases symptoms by increasing the body’s immunity. The patient drips liquid containing allergens under the tongue and holds it there for one to two minutes before swallowing. This is a more convenient option than allergy shots for many patients because allergy drops can be safely administered at home rather than at the doctor’s office.
The dose varies by patient depending on several factors, including severity of allergies and sensitivity to allergy drop dosages. Patients generally self-administer treatments between three and seven days per week for an average of three to five years. The goal is to build up the body’s immunity to allergens so the patient no longer experiences symptoms once the treatment is over.
Are There Any Risks with Allergy Drops?
Like all medical procedures, there are possible risks and side effects. However, these are generally mild, ranging from localized itching in the mouth to intestinal discomfort, which often goes away after several weeks.
What Can I Expect from Allergy Drops?
Allergy drops are an important new treatment option for patients constantly refilling over-the-counter allergy medications or taking daily trips to the doctor’s office for allergy shots. Currently, allergy drops are effective for treating asthma related to dust mites, as well as allergies to grass, ragweed, pet dander and tree pollen. Researchers hope to expand the treatment’s effectiveness for other allergies such as hay fever, eczema and food sensitivities.