The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that allergies affect about 50 million people in the United States every year. This includes allergies triggered by airborne substances such as pollen or pet dander, food allergies, skin allergies such as eczema or hives, drug allergies, and allergic reactions to insect bites.

With so many people experiencing allergies, it’s no wonder drugstore aisles are full of medications that promise to protect you from your body’s response to substances (allergens) that cause your runny nose, watery and itchy eyes, itchy skin rashes, stomach upset — and sometimes even difficulty breathing.

It can be overwhelming, however, to choose from the many medicines available for allergies. The wrong pick can leave you feeling fuzzy and irritable without touching your symptoms. Some can even cause that same runny, congested nose you’re trying to avoid if you use them too frequently.

Our healthcare professionals at Keystone Health and Wellness Center are happy to explain a few details about allergy treatments and why your first best step for allergy control may be an office visit.

Not all allergy treatments are the same

Decongestants and antihistamines are the most commonly used medications for allergies, and they’re available as pills, nasal sprays, eye drops, or liquid. Available over the counter and by prescription, these medications address the symptoms brought on by exposure to allergens, such as tree pollen or grasses, certain foods, or substances your skin comes in contact with.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines block histamine, which is the powerful chemical substance your body creates to rid itself of the allergen it views as a toxic invader. Histamine causes the sneezing, runny nose, inflammation, itching, and other symptoms that are common during an allergic reaction.

Decongestants

Decongestants help reduce inflammation and relieve nasal congestion and drainage as well as eye redness. However, nasal decongestant sprays and eye drops can actually worsen your symptoms if you use them for more than a few days. Oral decongestants may also raise your blood pressure, so they aren’t usually recommended for people with hypertension.

Other allergy medicines

Other allergy treatments include steroid nasal sprays, oral steroids such as prednisone, immunotherapy (allergy shots), and medications that prevent the release of histamine from mast cells that operate at the direction of your immune system. Saline nasal sprays can also help relieve nasal irritation and loosen mucus but don’t contain any medications.

Emergency allergy meds

If you’re having a severe, anaphylactic reaction to an allergen, which can cause respiratory failure, your only option is immediate treatment with epinephrine (adrenaline) and a trip to the emergency room for further evaluation and monitoring.

Immunotherapy for long-term relief

Immunotherapy is quite effective for long-term allergy treatment and is especially useful if you experience allergy symptoms more than three months of the year or have severe allergic reactions to bee stings or other allergens.

Immunotherapy works by gradually exposing you to increasing levels of an allergen, which helps your immune system build up a tolerance to the substance.

Once available only through injections, the FDA has approved several under-the-tongue (sublingual) immunotherapy tablets or drops that can be taken at home once your healthcare provider has observed your response and provides a prescription.

It can take three years for your body to respond to immunotherapy, but many patients find the results well worth the wait.

Identifying your best treatment options

Allergy testing is the first step in discovering your best treatment options. It’s a simple, painless procedure that’s performed in the office.

After that, we can help determine whether you need a short-term therapy that gets you past a few weeks in the spring or fall when pollen counts are high or if immunotherapy is the right treatment for you.

We can also help you identify simple things to do at home to decrease your exposure, such as changing out your furnace filters more often or using pillow covers that keep dust mites from invading your dreams.