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Treatment for Allergy

How are allergies treated?

Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • How old you are

  • Your overall health and health history

  • How sick you are

  • How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • Your opinion or preference

The most effective ways to treat allergies are staying away from your triggers, getting allergy shots, and taking medicine.

What is avoidance?

Avoidance is staying away from a substance (allergens) that causes an allergic reaction. Using nasal irrigation and saline sprays can help rinse the allergen and irritants out of your nose. Ask your healthcare provider which method is best for you.

Suggestions for staying away from (some) allergens

  • Stay indoors when the pollen count is high and on windy days

  • Dust proof your home, especially the bedroom.

    • Get rid of wall-to-wall carpet, Venetian blinds, down-filled blankets or pillows, and closets filled with clothes when possible.

    • Wash bedding, curtains, and clothing often and in hot water to eliminate dust mites.

    • Keep bedding in dust covers when possible.

  • Use air conditioning instead of opening the windows.

  • Consider putting a dehumidifier in damp areas of the home, but remember to clean it often.

  • Wear face masks when working in the yard.

Your healthcare provider will also have suggestions for other ways to stay away from allergens.

What are allergy shots (allergy immunotherapy)?

Allergy shots are a type of treatment for people with hay fever (allergic rhinitis), eye allergy (conjunctivitis), or allergic asthma, or for people with stinging insect allergy. It's also called desensitization or hyposensitization. It uses a specific mixture of the various pollens, mold spores, animal danders, and dust mites that you are allergic to. This mixture is called an allergy extract. It acts similar to a vaccine. Increasing doses of the allergy extract boosts your natural immune system and it learns to fight off the allergens. This extract contains no medicine. Newer medicines are appropriate for certain allergies. The desensitization is done using a tablet under the tongue, instead of a shot. This is called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). Ask your doctor if this treatment is a good choice for you.

How is allergy immunotherapy given?

Allergy immunotherapy is given by tablets that dissolve under the tongue. Or it is given by shots.

How often are allergy immunotherapy shots needed?

You may get shots every week or twice a week until you can tolerate a maximum dose. This is called the maintenance dose. It may take about one year to reach the maintenance dose. At that point, you may then need the shots every other week and finally once a month. You may need the allergy shots for up to 5 years or longer. Your healthcare provider will set the schedule and the length of time you will need the shots.

You usually take allergy tablets every day.

Symptom improvement and allergy immunotherapy

People with allergies can get better with allergy immunotherapy. But it usually takes from 12 to 18 months before your symptoms can get better. Some people get relief as soon as 6 to 8 months.

Immunotherapy is only part of the treatment plan for people with allergies. Because it takes time for allergy immunotherapy to work, you will need to keep taking allergy medicines, as prescribed by your healthcare provider. It's also important to continue keeping allergens such as dust mites out of your environment.

Are there side effects to allergy immunotherapy?

There are 2 types of reactions to allergy immunotherapy: local and systemic.

  • The local reaction is redness and swelling at the injection site. If this condition occurs again and again, your healthcare provider will change the extract strength or schedule.

  • A systemic reaction is one that involves a different place in the body, not the injection site. Your symptoms may include nasal congestion, sneezing, hives, swelling, wheezing, and low blood pressure. Such reactions can be serious and life threatening. But allergy immunotherapy is rarely fatal. If a systemic reaction occurs, you may keep taking shots, but at a lower dosage.

If you have any questions about immunotherapy, see your healthcare provider or allergist. 

Medicines used to treat allergy

The specific medicine your healthcare provider prescribes is based on your symptoms. These are the most commonly used medicines:

  • Antihistamines. These are used to relieve or prevent the symptoms of hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and other allergies. Antihistamines prevent the effects of histamine. Histamine is a substance your body makes during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines can be tablets, capsules, liquids, nasal sprays or drops, eye drops, or shots. They can be bought over the counter and by prescription. Contact your healthcare provider for advice before taking this medicine.

  • Decongestants. These help ease swelling and congestion in the nose. They come in pills and nasal sprays or drops. Don't use decongestant nasal sprays for more than 3 days, or they can make your symptoms worse. The FDA does not recommend decongestants or antihistamines for children 2 years or younger.

  • Corticosteroids. These come in 3 types:

    • Nasal. This type of medicine reduces swelling in the nose. It comes as a spray.

    • Creams or ointments: These help stop itching and rashes from spreading on the body.

    • Oral (by mouth). This type of medicine decrease swelling and helps to stop serious allergic reactions.

  • Mast cell stabilizers. This medicine eases allergy symptoms by helping stop the release of histamines from the body. Histamine causes itching, swelling, and mucus. An example of this kind of medicine is cromolyn.

  • Epinephrine. This self-injectable medicine is given within minutes of a serious allergic reaction. Epinephrine is the most effective treatment to give during an anaphylaxis reaction. Call 911 right away.

Precautions for children

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against some over-the-counter medicines for children. Talk with your child's healthcare provider before giving any over-the counter medicine to your child. Always talk with your child's provider before starting or stopping any allergy or asthma medicines.

Online Medical Reviewer: Allen J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
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