How to manage allergic reactions and symptoms with medication

Although there is no known cure for allergies and allergic reactions, there are many ways to treat the affliction so you can live a happy, healthy, and productive life. One of the best courses of action to take against allergies is to administer medication.

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There are several types of drugs on the market that can be used to eliminate or lessen the bothersome and painful symptoms associated with an allergic reaction. Whether you’re looking for something over-the-counter for convenience or a stronger prescription drug from your allergist, the following medications treat everything from a runny nose and congestion to rashes and severe headaches:

1. Over-the-Counter Aids

If you need quick relief, nothing beats over-the-counter products that you can find at almost any drugstore or grocery store. For example, itchy, watery, and red eyes may benefit from a few drops of artificial tear solutions, which replace the tears you would otherwise naturally make.

As for solutions, a saline or salt water solution breaks up the mucus that clogs your nasal passages, preventing crusts from forming and blockages that hinder your ability to breathe naturally.

2. Decongestants

In the midst of an allergy attack, your mucous membranes and the tissues inside your nose will swell. This is due to contact with an irritant. In response, your nasal passages will create mucus. The same irritation can cause your eyes to swell and discolor. Decongestants shrink inflamed tissue and blood vessels, relieving many of these terrible symptoms.

These are drugs that can be found in pharmacies, although the stronger varieties require a prescription from your doctor. As their name suggests, they relieve congestion which is too often a symptom for many allergy sufferers. They come in many forms, including pills and liquids. And some nasal sprays and eye drops also fall into this category.

Remember that even over-the-counter decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, can raise blood pressure, so be careful if you already have problems with high blood pressure or glaucoma. The drug can also increase irritability and cause insomnia, so be careful. Also, using eye drops and nasal spray decongestants, such as phenylephrine and oxymetazoline, respectively, for too long can make symptoms worse rather than help them.

3. Anticholinergic nose sprays

If your nose is already running, and running a little too much, you might want to try a nasal spray containing ipratropium bromide. You will simply spray it into each nostril and it will reduce your runny nose by attaching to the glands lining your nasal cavity and preventing them from secreting mucus. Unfortunately, this can lead to a very dry nose and throat, so use it sparingly.

4. Antihistamines

Your immune system is seriously triggered when you encounter something that you are personally allergic to. And, unfortunately, those of you with allergies will learn that your immune response will appear more exaggerated than most other people, which is quite uncomfortable and painful.

So what’s going on? Immune cells called “mast cells” release so-called “histamine,” an organic compound that enlarges blood vessels by attaching to their receptors. This is what causes the changes in discharge, as well as the itching, redness, and swelling you tend to experience. As the name suggests, an antihistamine prevents this chemical from binding to vulnerable receptors and alleviates symptoms.

These drugs have been used for decades to treat the effects of allergies and are quite effective. They come in liquids and pills to take by mouth, as well as nasal sprays and eye drops, such as naphazoline, for topical relief. Many are available over-the-counter, such as loratadine, although there are several prescription varieties, such as cetirizine, fexofenadine, and levocetirizine.

Just note that many older antihistamines, such as brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, clemastine, and diphenhydramine, can cause drowsiness. Therefore, be careful when operating machinery or driving a vehicle.

5. Steroids

Corticosteroids, often abbreviated simply as “steroids”, are drugs that significantly reduce inflammation. As such, they can also prevent the runny nose and itching associated with seasonal allergies, as well as the sneezing and congestion that sufferers endure. Additionally, steroids are also effective in reducing swelling and inflammation caused by other types of allergic reactions, including food allergies.

Steroids, such as prednisone, usually come in liquid or pill form, and it can take up to two weeks for the drug to be fully effective. However, in order to maintain their potency as an anti-allergen, steroids must be taken on a strict schedule. This usually means that you need to take your medication every day to keep it working, even if you don’t currently have any symptoms.

Steroids are also given through prescription nasal sprays, such as beclomethasone, ciclesonide, fluticasone furoate, and mometasone, and inhalers, for those who also have asthma. Allergic conjunctivitis, or pink eye, can be treated with steroid eye drops, such as dexamethasone ophthalmic and loteprednol ophthalmic, and there are also topical steroid creams for eczema and skin reactions.

Just be aware that while steroids are fantastic fighters of pesky allergy symptoms, long-term use can lead to osteoporosis, cataracts, or even diabetes. In the short term, you may experience weight gain and high blood pressure with use.

6. Leukotriene modifiers

These are drugs that block or alter the effects of body chemicals produced in response to contact with an allergen. These chemicals are called “leukotrienes”. These drugs are also one of the first line defenses in the treatment of asthma and other nasal passage problems.

Currently, these agents are only available with a prescription from your doctor. In fact, the only leukotriene modifier currently approved in the United States is montelukast. It is available as pills, oral granules, or chewable tablets for convenience. There are few noticeable side effects, but you may experience mild stomach discomfort, nausea, or headache after use.

7. Mast cell stabilizers

These are drugs that are used to prevent the release of the dreaded histamine that causes mild to moderate inflammation. Mast cells are the cells where histamines are created and stored, so these drugs are meant to release and deactivate them. And, although mast stabilizers like cromolyn sodium, lodoxamide-tromethamine, nedocromil, and pemirolast aren’t as effective as steroids at containing inflammation, they have fewer side effects. That said, they can take a few weeks to work steadily.

Mast cell stabilizers are available as inhalers for nasal allergies, eye drops for allergic conjunctivitis, and oral solutions. As for side effects, at most they can cause throat irritation or coughing, although some patients have reported headaches and rashes.

8. Immunotherapy

This is a very effective treatment that has provided respite to many people with lifelong allergies. It can give you long-term relief, which is especially useful for those who suffer from allergies for more than three months a year. This type of therapy can take the form of allergy shots or tablets under the tongue, such as grastek, oralair, and ragwitek, which can be taken at home. Other immunotherapy pills, such as odactra, treat dust mite allergies, and palforzia treat peanut allergies.

The therapy gradually exposes you to ever-increasing doses of the allergens that offend you, treating your hay fever. Working almost like a vaccine, it allows your immune system to become more tolerant.

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