Millions of people all over the world deal with the off-putting effects of allergies on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for allergic reactions.
Modern science has, however, developed numerous types of allergy medication that are now available through prescription or over-the-counter.
These medications help to ease the symptoms of allergic reactions while also treating side effects such as congestion, itchy eyes, and runny nose. Some of the most popular allergy treatment medications are used alongside these to form what’s known as “combination drugs.”
While this site is mainly focused on educating visitors on how air purifiers can help with allergies (See our best allergy air purifiers page), we also think it is necessary to share what medication options are available too.
An air purifier is a great device to have inside the home in order to strip the air of harmful contaminants. Many allergy sufferers find that a combination of an air purifier with medications is the best way to control their symptoms.
Understanding the Main Types of Allergy Medication
Understanding the basic properties of the various types of allergy medication on the market can help you decide which option is right for you.
We’ll go over Antihistamines, Decongestants, Steroids, Bronchodilators, Mast Cell Stabilizers, Leukotriene Modifiers and combination drugs.
Antihistamines are an extremely common allergy medication used by modern doctors on patients of all ages. The good thing about them is that they can be used continually for years. Antihistamines come in the form of pills, capsules, liquids, eye drops, and nasal sprays.
Over-the-counter, or OTC, antihistamines are easy to acquire and use. Antihistamine eye drops, for example, can relive itchy, red eyes with a single application. Nasal sprays, which are also available OTC, are generally used to treat the off-putting symptoms of seasonal allergic reactions. Each type of antihistamine treatment is used per the allergy it is relieving.
Antihistamines work by blocking the receptors in the body that create allergic reactions. When you become exposed to an allergen, that exposure triggers the immune system. In normal cases, the immune system reacts accordingly and no side effects are ever experienced. However, in those with allergies, the allergen makes the immune system go into overdrive, resulting in an uncomfortable and sometimes deadly allergic reaction.
The side effects of antihistamines are common but relatively harmless when used as directed. Most over-the-counter antihistamines cause drowsiness, so it’s recommended not to use them if you plan on operating heavy machinery. Higher grade antihistamines, which also produce more serious side effects, can be attained through a prescription.
Examples of Antihistamines:
- OTC: Zyrtec, Dimetapp, Claritin, Benadryl
- Prescription: Clarinex, Xyzal, Astelin, Patanol
Decongestants, like antihistamines, are used to combat the immediate effects of allergen exposure. However, decongestants are mainly used to relive a stuffy nose. Often prescribed alongside an antihistamine, decongestants can be attained over-the-counter as well.
Finding decongestants in the form of pills, sprays, and liquid drops is common. The nasal sprays and eye drops should be used only as directed, and typically cannot be used continually for more than a few days at a time. Pill and liquid-form decongestants can be taken for longer. Still, long-term use of decongestants can make symptoms worse, so be sure to follow all instructions closely.
An allergic reaction which calls for the use of decongestants will involve nasal swelling and redness. Decongestants prevent the lining of the nose from becoming inflamed after exposure to allergens such as pet dander, ragweed, and pollen. The increase the mucus can influence the eyes as well, which is why decongestants are sometimes in the form of eye drops.
The dangers of using decongestants irresponsibly are many, but proper use of decongestants can help allergies tremendously. In general, decongestants can raise blood pressure, cause insomnia, make a person feel irritable, or restrict urinary flow through the urethra. Be sure to speak with your doctor to find out which decongestant treatment will work best for you.
Examples of Decongestants:
- Tablets or liquid: Sudafed, Neo-Synephrine
- Nasal spray: Afrin
Steroids, or corticosteroids, are used to reduce the inflammation associated with allergic reactions. Steroids are useful at preventing nasal congestion, sneezing, and runny nose. This treatment is commonly used for patients with year-round allergies and can only be attained through a prescription.
Although steroids are high effective for the treatment of allergies, they must be used daily to remain useful. Steroids come in the form of pills and liquids and are commonly found in inhalers, topical creams, and eye drops. For many doctors, prescribing steroids alongside other allergy treatment medications is common practice. Because steroids must be taken for one or two weeks before it starts working, many people are unaware of the side effects, which include but are not limited to:
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure
- Fluid retention
- Growth suppression
- Muscle weakness
To ensure proper use of steroids, be sure to ask your doctor about your unique medical needs.
Examples of Steroids:
- Prescription Nasal: Beconase, Zetonna, Flonase
- OTC Nasal: Rhinocort Allergy, Flonase Allergy Relief, Nasacort Allergy 24 hour
- Inhaled: QVar, Flovent, Asmanex
- Eye drops: Alrex, Dexamethasone Ophthalmic
- Oral: Deltasone
Bronchodilators and Mast Cell Stabilizers
Used in inhalers to control asthma symptoms, bronchodilators dilate the bronchial tubes in the throat to promote better air flow. Bronchodilators are commonly used by people who are already suffering from an allergic reaction, providing instant relief for up to 12 hours by clearing the mucus in the throat and rapidly opening the airways. Bronchodilators are very potent and should never be overused. Irresponsible use of bronchodilators may result in high blood pressure, fast heartbeat, arrhythmia, and even death.
Examples of Bronchodilators:
- Ventolin, Pro-Air, Proventil
As for mast cell stabilizers, they can be used to treat inflammation in the bronchial tubes. Used most commonly to help with predictable allergic flair-ups, mast cell stabilizers are commonly administered before exposure to an allergen to prevent unwanted symptoms. This treatment option is available through prescription only and comes in the form of pills, sprays, and drops. Furthermore, mast cell stabilizers take a few weeks to become effective, so other treatment options must be used in conjunction. When used properly, mast cell stabilizers are safe and effective, with side effects including a burning sensation and blurred vision.
Examples of Mast Cell Stabilizers:
- Intal, Alomide, Alocril
Used to treat asthma and nasal allergy ailments, leukotriene modifiers are often prescribed alongside other allergy medications and come in the form of pills, granules, or chewable tablets. This option works by blocking chemicals in the body that produce allergic reactions. Side effects include, but are not limited to the following:
- Stomach pain
- Behavioral issues
If using prescription grade allergy medication does not interest you, using simple over-the-counter products may help. Saltwater solution, or saline, loosens mucus quickly and prevents crusting. It also contains no medicine. Artificial tears are also effective at treating itchy, watery eyes and contain no medicinal ingredients.
Examples of Leukotriene Modifiers:
Keep in mind that some doctors might prescribe, or you might find on the shelves of your local drug store, combination allergy drugs that are designed to combat multiple symptoms of allergies. These medications may have different side effects when combined, so be sure to read the label. Ask your doctor if you have specific questions about how combination allergy drugs may affect your health.
Examples of Combination Drugs:
- OTC: Zyrtec-D, Allegra-D, Benadryl Allergy and Sinus
- Prescription: Semprex-D, Optivar, Dymista
The History of Allergies
If you found this article interesting, you may want to learn more about the history and discovery of allergies. Many of us take what we know about allergies for granted. In fact, the consensus between scientists on the term “allergy” only came about within the last 100 years.
The term and theories behind what allergies are (and their cause) is quite fascinating, to say the least.