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Allergies & Asthma: Treatment

Treatment

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 and/or immunotherapy (allergy shots).

Avoiding 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.

Medication

While some may find relief with an over-the-counter medicine, such as Claritin, Alavert, or Zyrtec-D, others may prefer a stronger one-a-day prescription tablet, such as Singulair. Ask your doctor for recommendations, but don't mix your meds; following a non-drowsy 24-hour drug with a different p.m. pill could lead to dizziness, increased heartbeat, and nausea. Most important: Take allergy medications as regularly as suggested by a doctor to ward off attacks, rather than just when you're experiencing symptoms.

  • 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 non-prescription counterparts, but many of them do not cause drowsiness.  Decongestant pills, sprays, and nose drops reduce stuffiness by shrinking swollen nasal membranes.

    Don't use a non-prescription nasal decongestant spray for more than three days in a row since it may cause the swelling and stuffiness in your nose to become worse, even after you stop using it. This is called a "rebound" reaction. If you have asthma, talk with your doctor before taking any non-prescription 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 stop the spread of rashes. If your rash does not go away after using a non-prescription corticosteroid as directed, see your doctor.  Corticosteroid nasal sprays help reduce the inflammation that causes nasal congestion without the risk of the "rebound" effect found in non-prescription nose sprays. Oral Corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce swelling and stop severe allergic reactions.
  • Cromolyn Sodium prevents the inflammation which causes nasal congestion. Because it has few, if any, side effects, cromolyn can be used safely over long periods of time.
  • Epinephrine comes in pre-measured, self-injectable containers, and is the only medication which can help during a life-threatening anaphylactic attack. To be effective, epinephrine must be given within minutes of the first sign of serious allergic reaction.

Immunotherapy (Allergy Shots)

When it is not possible to avoid your allergens and treatment with medications alone does not solve the problem, or if you're affected by seasonal allergies for more than three months of the year, allergy shots, also called immunotherapy, may be in order. This involves giving a person increasingly higher doses of their allergen over time. For reasons that we do not completely understand, the person gradually becomes less sensitive to that allergen. Shots can be effective for some people with hay fever, certain animal allergies, and insect stings. ) By changing the immune pathways, immunotherapy may even help prevent the development of other allergies as well as asthma. It is usually not effective for allergies to food, drugs, or feathers, nor is it effective for hives or eczema.

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