They don’t have to, though: Many medications can help. Not all medications for allergies work the same.
What works for someone else may not help your symptoms.
In this article, I’ll talk about what allergies are, and explore allergy medication options, as well as things you can do at home to reduce your symptoms.
I’ll also cover how healthcare providers diagnose allergies, and how to know when you should see a medical professional for help.
What Are Allergies?
Allergies happen when your immune system reacts to something it perceives as a threat. Some things that your immune system may react to may not bother other people.
You may have allergies to things that many others are allergic to, like pollen or dust mites. Or you may be allergic to substances that are less common to others, like certain medications or foods.
Our immune systems develop allergies based on genetics, environmental exposures, and other factors.
It is not always easy to understand why someone develops an allergy to a specific substance or food.
They can even lead to a potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reaction, where it becomes hard to breathe.
Even if your allergies are not life-threatening, the symptoms can be frustrating or annoying. Allergies can be improved with the right medical treatment and lifestyle interventions.
Allergy medicines help alleviate the symptoms of allergies.
They do not cure allergies and may not prevent all symptoms, but they can typically improve your quality of life.
There are many over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medicines available at most pharmacies:
- Decongestants: These can break up mucus, but may not be safe for taking long-term. Guaifenesin (Mucinex) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) are examples of decongestants that may help with acute congestion caused by allergies.
- Natural remedies: Some products that include homeopathic ingredients, herbs, vitamins, or minerals may be marketed for allergy relief or support. These types of products may or may not be effective. Even if they are labeled as natural, check with your doctor before taking them with other OTC medicines or prescriptions. They can still cause interactions. Some natural products for allergies can include quercetin, bromelain, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), vitamin C, and diamine oxidase. Most of these have not been studied for effectiveness or safety. Even if you can buy them from a pharmacy or natural food store, work with your healthcare provider to determine what might be helpful and what might harm.
Never mix and match OTC medicines or remedies without talking to your healthcare provider first. Doing so could cause dangerous interactions.
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is a popular OTC antihistamine; it is typically used for acute allergic reactions, and is not meant to be taken daily long-term.
Daily allergy medicines include options like fexofenadine (Allegra), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and loratadine (Claritin).
You can also get antihistamine nasal sprays and eye drops.
Nasal sprays primarily help to ease a congested nose or nasal irritation. Some antihistamine nasal sprays and stronger steroid nasal sprays are available by prescription only.
Others are available OTC. Use them as directed. Decongestant nasal sprays, in particular, can worsen congestion problems if they are used too frequently or for too long.
For example, Afrin can only be used for up to three days, or it will cause worsening rebound congestion.
Examples of nasal sprays include:
- Saline nasal sprays
- Decongestant nasal sprays (Afrin)
- Steroid nasal sprays (Flonase, Nasacort)
Allergy shots are prescription-only immunotherapy. They try to train the immune system not to overreact to things that trigger allergic reactions.
Some offer long-term solutions for people who have severe allergies to common allergens, including:
- Dust mites
- Mold spores
- Pet dander
Allergy shots may be effective for 3-5 years, or they may not be effective at all. Insurance does not always cover immunotherapy treatment.
Home Remedies for Allergies
It is not possible to cure most allergies.
Rinse your sinuses
If you breathe in a lot of particles that irritate your immune system, you may have more histamine responses. Neti pots and saline sprays are helpful to rinse allergy contaminants out of your nasal passages.
By rinsing your sinuses, you may be able to decrease symptoms.
Most neti pots suggest rinses up to twice per day. Follow the instructions on your product or the label for saline washes and sprays.
Over-rinsing could lead to irritation and dryness, which could make some symptoms worse.
Even if dust mites are not one of your allergens, keeping your home free from dust can cut down on your overall allergy symptoms.
Mold, pollen, and dander can be found in the dust that settles across your home.
- Use a damp rag to remove dust so you don’t simply spread it around.
- Replace carpet, when feasible, since it holds dust and produces dust as it breaks down.
- Replace fabric furniture with leather or non-fabric surfaces, whenever possible, to cut down on more surfaces that hold dust.
Keep your linen clean
You spend many hours each night in bed, so it makes sense to have it as free from possible things that irritate your allergies.
If you have any seasonal allergies or other environmental sensitivities, frequently washing your bedding can cut down on allergen exposure.
- Use hypoallergenic pillows and blankets when possible.
- Wash bedding 1-2 times per week in the hottest water possible.
- Do not dry bedding outdoors.
- Replace your mattress, when needed, with a hypoallergenic version. Or get a hypoallergenic mattress cover.
Close the windows
When you have allergies, flooding your home with outside air can worsen your symptoms.
This is especially true if you are allergic to pollen, mold, air pollution, and anything else from outside.
Use HEPA filters
HEPA stands for high efficiency particulate air filter. These can help trap particles in the air and keep you from breathing them in.
HEPA air filters can be installed on entire home furnaces and air conditioning systems. You can also use individual room air filters.
Take extra steps when pollen counts are high
If you are sensitive to pollen, consider adjusting plans and avoiding time outside as much as possible.
This will minimize your allergy flare-ups and help reduce symptoms.
Reduce exposure to known allergy triggers
When you know exactly what you are allergic to, you can reduce your exposures to minimize the effects on your health.
Some steps to do this include:
- Changing your clothes after you have been outdoors.
- Washing outdoor clothing in hot water.
- Staying indoors on days when your allergens are elevated.
- Do not dry clothes outside.
- Do not keep windows open.
Consider hypoallergenic pets
Pet allergies can be devastating, especially if you already have a pet you love!
If you are allergic to pet dander and you can’t part ways with your pet, there are ways to minimize your symptoms.
- Replace flooring so that carpet does not store pet dander
- Do not let your pet sleep in your bed or the same room as you
- Bathe your pet frequently
- Consider speaking to your medical provider about immunotherapy options
If you do not yet have a pet and want one, you can get hypoallergenic dogs that are easier to live with when you have allergies.
This is especially important if you have carpet.
You can also use a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, which can cut down on how many allergens are dispersed into the air while you are cleaning.
Vacuum as often as seems to help your symptoms. Depending on how sensitive you are, this may need to be from a few times per week to daily.
Dry conditions can worsen allergies, but so can overly damp environments.
Dehumidifiers can reduce certain allergens, like mold, from areas that tend to get moist, like bathrooms and basements.
Houseplants can be calming and aesthetically pleasing, but whether they are real or plastic, they are an easy place for dust to collect.
If you are allergic to dust or pollen, houseplants may make your allergies worse. Dried flowers also collect and produce dust.
Cockroaches contribute to environmental allergies.
If you live in the southwest United States, where they are more common, have your home inspected and treated to prevent or address cockroach infestations.
A medical provider can run tests to identify what is triggering your allergy symptoms.
They may need to do one or more tests, depending on your symptoms:
- Blood (IgE) test: An IgE blood test looks for antibodies to certain substances. If your immune system is reacting to a compound, a food, or something else, it will produce antibodies to that substance. IgE laboratory testing is not perfect, and can sometimes result in false positives.
- Scratch test: A scratch test helps pinpoint reactions to many different substances. A medical provider uses thin needles or a tool that barely scratches the surface of the skin. While that sounds unpleasant, the testing does not cause pain. Your skin is then exposed to 10-50 different types of allergens. The medical provider may wait for around 15 minutes to see what your skin reacts to; this part may feel uncomfortable as bumps or a rash form, showing what you are allergic to. This test can help you get definitive answers about what to avoid and how to take precautions for managing your allergies effectively.
When to See a Medical Professional
If you have allergy symptoms and want to find relief, speak with a medical provider to discuss your symptoms and find out what testing or treatment options can help you.
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