(BlackDoctor.org) — Allergy sufferers can choose from an array of allergy medicine — over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription — that can be taken orally, as a nasal spray, as eye drops, or by injection.
Depending on your symptoms and the cause of your allergy, certain forms of allergy medicine may work better than others. The following types of allergy medicine are available today:
Antihistamines. Antihistamines are a type of allergy medicine that comes in liquid, tablet, or nasal spray form and is commonly used to treat allergic rhinitis and hives. These medicines reduce allergic symptoms by blocking the action of histamine, which is a chemical released during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines can be classified as sedating or non-sedating. Side effects such as dry mouth, problems with urination, constipation, and drowsiness are more common with sedating antihistamines. “Many of the non-sedating antihistamines are still prescription,” says Julie McNairn, MD, an allergist/immunologist in Cincinnati. But, she says, “a trial of over-the-counter antihistamine can certainly be appropriate.”
Decongestants. Decongestants temporarily cause blood vessels to squeeze down and reduce the amount of fluid that seeps out of the nasal blood vessels into the lining of the nose. In some cases of allergic rhinitis, which is inflammation of the nasal passages caused by allergies, decongestants can be combined with antihistamines. Decongestants are available both OTC and by prescription and come in liquid, nasal spray, and tablet form. These medications may cause nervousness, sleep problems, high blood pressure, and elevated heart rate in some people. They may also lead to “rebound rhinitis,” in which severe congestion occurs when the medication is stopped after three or four days.
Nasal rinses. Nasal rinses can be a very holistic way of treating allergies,” says Dr. McNairn, and can be used for people who have nasal symptoms related to their allergy. Nasal rinses involve flushing allergens and irritants from the nose with a salt-water solution. Nasal rinse kits are available OTC.
Leukotriene inhibitors. Leukotriene inhibitors such as azfirlukast (Accolate), montelukast (Singulair), and zileuton (Zyflo) block the action of chemicals in the body called leukotrienes. Leukotrienes cause inflammation, as well as swelling and contraction of the lining of the airways. These medications are primarily used for asthma, but may also be used to treat allergic rhinitis.
Mast cell stabilizers. These medications include cromolyn (Nasalcrom and Intal) and nedocromil (Tilade) and work by reducing inflammation seen in allergies and asthma, which can lead to swelling and congestion in the nose. Mast cell stabilizers “can be effective, but perhaps less so for allergy symptoms,” McNairn says.
Corticosteroids. This type of anti-inflammatory allergy medicine is available in many forms, including topical treatments, nasal sprays, inhalers, oral pills or liquids, and injections. Corticosteroids are commonly used to treat asthma but may be used to treat other allergies in some situations. Long-term use of inhaled or nasal spray forms of corticosteroids is considered safe and effective, as is short-term use of oral steroids. However, long-term use of oral corticosteroids has been associated with many side effects.
Talking About Allergy Medicine With Your Doctor
It is important to discuss your allergy medicine options with your allergist or other health care professional. You may have to try a few different types of allergy medicine before you find the right one for you. Fortunately, you have many options, and your doctor will help you decide which medicine is the best fit for your allergy treatment plan.