There are numerous drugs that relieve allergy symptoms. Allergic reactions are caused by allergens (impurities found in the air such as dust mites, pollen, or skin flakes and fur shed by pets). Other allergens are found in certain food products, cosmetic products and chemicals. These allergens affect the respiratory system and lead to allergy symptoms the most common being itching, sneezing, swelling or inflammation in the throat, eyes or nose. These symptoms can sometimes be so severe that medication is required.
Our bodies are equipped with chemical substances called histamines which form part of our immune system. When we come into contact with allergens, our histamines try to fight them off. Unfortunately, in many cases, the histamines actually make the allergy symptoms worse.
Some allergy medications include anti-histamines which suppress the body’s histamines. Other medications relieve allergic symptoms.
Many allergy medications are available over-the-counter without prescription.
What conditions do allergy medications treat?
Many people suffer with "seasonal allergies" because they experience allergic symptoms at certain times of the year. These symptoms are commonly known as hay fever because the allergy symptoms occur during the fall or spring when there are many leaves, grasses, pollen and weeds in the environment.
Other allergy medications are used to relieve allergic symptoms caused by other substances that can cause an allergy attack at any time of the year. Anti-histamines are also used to treat a skin condition called urticaria which is characterized by hives. Non-steroidal topical immunomodulators, as well as corticosteroid creams and ointments are also used to treat a number of skin conditions associated with allergies, some of which include atopic dermatitis or eczema. Anti-histamines can also be used to treat conditions that are not allergy related, such as migraine headaches, travel sickness or insomnia.
What are the different types of allergy medications?
Anti-histamines fall into two categories, namely non-sedative and sedative. Sedative anti-histamines will relieve allergic symptoms but can cause extreme drowsiness and other uncomfortable side-effects, such as dry mouth. Even non-sedative anti-histamines have been known to cause a degree of drowsiness.
All anti-histamines have the same effect, i.e. they prevent or relieve the characteristic symptoms of an allergic reaction. These symptoms include itchiness, swelling, sneezing, coughing, rhinitis and other respiratory/bronchial problems.
Anti-histamines are dispensed as oral tablets, nasal sprays, lotions and creams. Eye-drops with anti-histamine properties are used to relieve an eye infection known as conjunctivitis.
Other types of allergy drugs include:
Corticosteroids: These are contained in nasal sprays to reduce swelling and inflammation of the nasal passages. A number of creams and ointments used to treat allergic skin reactions contain corticosteroids. In the case of extreme allergic reactions, corticosteroids may be administered orally or by injection.
Mast cell stabilizers: These are taken regularly to prevent allergic reactions. During an allergic reaction, the body releases histamine and other chemicals. Mast cell stabilizers like cromolyn sodium prevent these chemicals from being released.
Leukotriene inhibitors: During an allergic reaction, the body releases other substances called leukotrienes which can aggravate the allergy symptoms that cause asthma. Leukotriene inhibitors prevent the release of leukotriene.
Nasal anticholinergics: A common symptom associated with allergic rhinitis is a runny nose. Anticholinergic nasal sprays will stop a runny nose, but will not clear a blocked nose.
Decongestants: These will clear a blocked nose by constricting blood vessels, thereby limiting the amount of mucus released. Decongestants are dispensed as oral tablets, nasal sprays and liquids. A decongestant will not relieve other allergic symptoms like sneezing or itching.
Immunomodulators: These are often used when other anti-allergy medications have not been successful. An immunomodulator is a topical treatment for skin allergies.
Autoinjectable epinephrine: A life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis is treated with autoinjectable epinephrine. This condition can be caused by a severe allergic reaction to drugs, foods or insect stings.