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 medical 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 avoidance, allergy immunotherapy, and medicine.

What is avoidance?

Avoidance is staying away from a substance (allergens) that causes an allergic reaction. Wash out your nose every day to decrease symptoms of airborne allergens. Ask your healthcare provider on the best device or method to use to wash out your nose.

Suggestions for avoiding (some) allergens

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

  • Dust proof your home, particularly 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 doctor will also have suggestions for other ways to avoid allergens.

What is allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots)?

Allergy immunotherapy is a type of treatment for people with allergic rhinitis (hay fever), conjunctivitis (eye allergy), or allergic asthma, or for people with stinging insect allergy. It is also called desensitization, hyposensitization, and allergy shots. It uses an individualized 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.

How is allergy immunotherapy administered?

Allergy immunotherapy is given by injection usually into the fatty tissue in the back of your arm.

How often are allergy immunotherapy injections necessary?

You may get Injections weekly or twice a week until a maximum dose is tolerated. This is called the maintenance dose. It may take about one year to reach the maintenance dose. At this point, the frequency of injections may be go down to every other week and finally to once a month. Allergy immunotherapy injections may be needed up to 5 years or longer. Your doctor will set the schedule and the length of time needed for immunotherapy injections.

Symptom improvement and allergy immunotherapy

About 80% to 90% of people improve with allergy immunotherapy. But, it usually takes from 12 to 18 months before you notice symptom relief.  Some people have symptom relief as soon as 6 to 8 months.

Immunotherapy is only part of the treatment plan for people with allergies. Since it takes time for allergy immunotherapy to become effective, you will need to continue the allergy medicines, as prescribed by your doctor. It is 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 repeatedly, then the extract strength or schedule is changed.

  • A systemic reaction is one that involves a different site, not the injection site. The symptoms may include nasal congestion, sneezing, hives, swelling, wheezing, and low blood pressure. Such reactions can be serious and life threatening. However, deaths related to allergy immunotherapy are rare. If a systemic reaction occurs, you may keep taking shots, but of lower dosage.

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

Medicines used to treat allergy

The use of medicines for asthma or respiratory symptoms from allergies are individualized based on your symptoms. These are the most commonly used medicines:

  • Antihistamines. These are used to relieve or prevent the symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and other allergies. Antihistamines prevent the effects of histamine, a substance produced by the body during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines come in tablet, capsule, liquid, nasal sprays or drops, eye drops, or injection form and are available both 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 nasal sprays for more than 3 days or it can worsen your symptoms. The American Academy of Family Physicians does not recommend decongestants for children ages 4 and younger.

  • Corticosteroids

    • 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 helps stop the release of  histamines from the body. Histamine causes itching, swelling, and mucus production.

  • Cromolyn. This medicine is used to stop nasal symptoms caused by allergies. It is an anti-inflammatory (decrease swelling).

  • 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 immediately.

 

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