Medical Treatment of Allergies
An estimated 45 million Americans now suffer some form of allergy. An allergy is the body’s abnormal response to a foreign protein. In a person with allergies, the immune system basically overreacts to environmental compounds, or allergens. Allergies are not only bothersome, but have been linked to chronic respiratory illnesses such as sinusitis and asthma.
Allergy symptoms vary, but may include sneezing, wheezing, coughing, stuffy or runny nose (allergic rhinitis), itchy nose, itchy or watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis), asthma, and dermatitis. Other symptoms may include chronic sinus infections, headaches, fatigue, and gastrointestinal upset.
The three most effective ways to treat allergies are avoidance, immunotherapy (also called desensitization, hyposensitization, and allergy shots) and medication. At present, there is no surgical way to treat allergies directly.
Some of the most common and effective medications to treat allergies include:
- Antihistamines to relieve or prevent symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and other allergies. They work by blocking the effects of histamine, a substance produced by the body during an allergic reaction.
- Decongestants. These treat nasal congestion and other symptoms associated with allergies and colds. Decongestants cause the blood vessels within the nasal lining to narrow, thus reducing the amount of swelling and improving nasal breathing. Topical decongestants such as oxymetazoline should not be used for more than a few days because they will cause a rebound effect and ultimately worsen the congestion.
- Leukotriene inhibitors. Leukotrienes are compounds involved in the development of inflammation within the nasal lining. Agents such as monoleukast are very effective, and patients do not usually develop tolerance to them as they frequently do with antihistamines.