Allergy treatment basics

Sometimes, avoiding allergens is just not possible or not enough to prevent the troublesome symptoms of allergic rhinitis. When this happens, allergy treatment using medications may be necessary.

There are a wide range of treatments available for allergy sufferers, including prescription and non-prescription products. These include:

  • nasal medications
  • eye drops
  • oral medications
  • allergy shots
  • nasal sprays and rinses

Nasal medications are often prescribed to help alleviate nasal symptoms. These medications take some time to work and do not provide immediate relief – they need to be used regularly for at least a week to see relief.

Eye drops are available both by prescription and over the counter to manage itchy, dry eyes associated with allergies. Though these products provide quick relief of your symptoms, the effect doesn't last very long. Fortunately, you can use them as needed. Do not keep these eye drops over a long period of time as bacteria can grow in them. It is best to throw them away 1 month after you open the bottle.

Oral allergy medications (taken by mouth) are also available by prescription or over the counter. These medications can help with numerous symptoms such as itchy eyes and runny nose. Oral allergy medications can sometimes cause drowsiness and other side effects. The newer "non-drowsy" products will cause less drowsiness and are much better for day time use. However, people may respond to these differently. Until you know how these products affect you, do not take them before tasks requiring focus like driving a car.

Allergy shots are a newer development in the realm of allergy solutions. These are available by prescription only and are very specific to your particular allergen. Speak with your doctor if you're interested in trying this treatment.

Over-the-counter saline nasal sprays and rinses can help clean and moisturize the nasal passages. These can be used regularly, or just when you need them. They can alleviate signs and symptoms of  mild allergies such as itching, runny nose, and congestion by washing away the allergens. If you use other nasal medications, remember to use the rinse first, so you don't wash away the other medications!

If you are able to predict when your allergies start (e.g., seasonal allergic rhinitis), you should start preventative measures (including medication) beforehand so that your symptoms are minimized. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you find a treatment that's right for you.

When choosing a treatment, you should consider the following factors:

  • What are the side effects?
  • How often do I need to use the medication?
  • How long do I have to use the medication?
  • Will it interact with my other medication(s)?
  • How quickly will I get relief?
  • Will the treatment resolve all my allergy symptoms?

What can you expect from your allergy therapy? Goals for allergy prevention and treatment include:

  • prevention of allergy symptoms (e.g., by avoiding your allergy triggers)
  • relief and control over the symptoms caused by your allergies
  • minimal or no side effects from the medications

If you are already treating your allergies and are not achieving these goals, consider talking to your doctor about your allergy treatment options. Use our Doctor Discussion Guide to help you prepare for your visit.

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