Here’s What to Know About the Different Types of Allergy Treatments
Allergies are responsible for a large number of chronic illnesses in the United States as well as throughout the world. On an annual basis, as many as 50 million U.S. residents suffer from allergies at an annual cost of more than $18 billion.1 Allergies affect men, women, and children, and no single demographic appears to be immune.
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is one of the most common types of allergies, affecting as much as 30 percent of the world’s population.2 Ironically, hay fever is not usually accompanied by an actual fever, although nasal congestion and a runny nose are common. Oftentimes, allergy sufferers mistakenly believe they have a cold.
Signs and Symptoms of Allergies
Allergy sufferers experience a wide variety of signs and symptoms. Here are 10 of the more common ones.
1. Watery or Sensitive Eyes
Many allergens can irritate the eyes, including mold, mildew, dust, and pollen. Food allergies and bee stings can also affect the eyes. Sufferers commonly experience puffy eyes, redness, and burning.
2. Itchy or Scratchy Throat
This is often the result of a postnasal drip. When the body is exposed to an allergen, it increases the supply of mucus. While this may not be painful, sufferers often feel a need to clear their throat frequently which results in soreness.
3. Skin Rash
Skin rashes can be caused by allergic reactions to several different allergens, including certain foods, drugs, and plants. Two of the more common skin rashes are hives and eczema. When skin rashes itch, it is due to a release of histamine. Because of this, an antihistamine may provide relief.
Swelling is usually the result of an insect bite, an adverse reaction to a food or medication, or exposure to pet dander. This condition can be dangerous. Anyone having difficulty breathing should immediately seek medical attention.
Food allergies sometimes result in vomiting. A person may also experience a stomach ache and cramping. Common culprits include wheat, shellfish, soy, nuts, milk, fish, and eggs.
6. Runny Nose
Allergens can produce a runny or stuffy nose as the result of a postnasal drip. An allergy sufferer may also experience excessive sneezing.
7. Abdominal Pain
An abdominal pain may be caused by a food allergy. However, a severe abdominal pain may be an indication of a more serious condition, in which case a medical professional should be consulted.
Fatigue can result from a number of different causes. However, prolonged fatigue could be the result of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) caused by an allergen.
9. Irritability and Depression
Allergens may affect a person’s ability to get a good night’s sleep which can cause a person to become irritable. Serotonin, a hormone that promotes good feelings, can also be reduced, leading to feelings of depression.
Headaches are a common result of exposure to allergens. Allergy-induced headaches may also be accompanied by swelling and increased pressure in the sinus cavities.3
Causes and Triggers
Allergies are the result of a person’s body reacting to a foreign substance that affects the immune system.4 A healthy person’s immune system produces antibodies comprised of blood protein which fight off health threats such as viruses, bacteria, and foreign substances in the blood. When an otherwise healthy person comes into contact with an allergen, the person’s immune system may see the allergen as a threat and react in a defensive way. This can result in the signs and symptoms previously described, some of which are serious enough to require medical attention.
Allergens may be contained in a variety of substances, including food or drink, an object that a person touches, particles breathed into the lungs, or a substance injected into the body. In addition to food and drink, some of the more common triggers include insect stings, pollen, latex, dust mites, animal dander, and mold.
Treatments and Side Effects
Currently, there is no known cure for allergies. However, there are treatments available which can reduce a person’s sensitivity to certain allergens and increase the person’s quality of life. Four of the more common treatments are shown below.
Pills used to treat allergies include antihistamines which are used to counter the immune system’s release of chemicals that can cause the symptoms previously described.5 Some of these medications are over-the-counter while others are by prescription only. Although these medications are useful in relieving allergy symptoms, they may cause drowsiness.
Rescue Inhalers, also known as short-acting bronchodilators, are often prescribed for allergy-induced asthma. They are very effective and typically last about four to six hours. The way they work is by opening up the air passages into the lungs. When a person’s allergy-induced asthma isn’t under control, an inhaled steroid may be prescribed. These drugs are referred to as controller medications because they reduce the inflammation in the airways of the lungs.
Another type of controller medication is a long-lasting bronchodilator. They last longer than a rescue inhaler — typically about 12 hours. They can be used as much as two times per day on a regular basis. Side effects may include headaches and throat irritation.
3. Nasal Sprays
Nasal sprays containing corticosteroids help relieve allergy symptoms such as a runny nose or sneezing. Some antihistamine sprays help prevent congestion and postnasal drip by blocking the effects of histamine. Certain over-the-counter sprays with an anti-inflammatory agent can prevent the effects of allergies if taken prior to exposure. Saline nasal sprays help soften mucus, making it easier to drain.6 Side effects may include sneezing and nose discomfort.
Allergy injections, also known as immunotherapy, are used to treat the symptoms of certain allergies, especially hay fever.7
The patient is first skin tested to determine the particular substance or substances that the patient is allergic to. Following that, the patient is injected with a small dose of that particular substance in order to build up immunity. This is one of the most effective long-term treatments available. Patients often experience a reduction in allergy symptoms as well as a reduced need for medications. Common side effects include irritation, swelling, and redness at the point of injection.
In the future, it is hoped that clinical trials will lead to a better understanding of the cause-and-effect relationship between patients and allergens. The ultimate goal of such trials is to be able to eliminate allergic reactions altogether.8 Until that is accomplished, research will focus on improving patients’ quality of life and improving diagnostic procedures so that a patient knows which allergens to avoid.