Understanding allergy treatments

Millions of people across the globe suffer from allergies, many of which rear their ugly heads during the spring season. Such a reality can quickly spoil the excitement of the nice weather.

Although there is no cure for allergies, individuals who do suffer from allergies have a host of treatment options at their disposals. Some are over-the- counter medications while others require prescriptions. Each type of medication works differently, and allergy sufferers may find it interesting and beneficial to understand the different ways some of the more common allergy treatments work.

Antihistamines— Some of the more well- known over- the- counter antihistamines include Benadryl, Claritin and Zyr tec. Prescription antihistamines include Clarinex and Livostin.

When an allergy sufferer is exposed to an allergen, cells within the body’s immune system release a substance called histamine, which then attaches to receptors in the blood vessels as well as additional receptors. As a result, the blood vessels enlarge and histamine’s attachment to other receptors causes swelling, itching, changes in secretions, and redness. However, when an allergy sufferer takes an antihistamine, the medication blocks the histamine receptors, preventing the symptoms in the process.

Though antihistamines are effective, they can also cause drowsiness. Allergy sufferers should look for non- sedating antihistamines, which may require a prescription.

Decongestants— Some of the more recognizable decongestants are Visine eye drops, Sudafed tablets or liquid, and Zyrtec-D. Each of these is an over-the- counter decongestant. Prescription decongestants like Claritin-D are often combination medications, which means they contain both an antihistamine and a decongestant.

When an individual is having an allergic reaction, the tissues in the nose swell as a result of contact with the allergen. This swelling results in fluid and mucous production, and swelling in the blood vessels of the eyes also occurs, which causes the redness of the eyes many allergy sufferers experience during spring.

Decongestants work by shrinking the swollen nasal tissues and blood vessels. This helps relieve the swelling, mucous secretion, redness, and congestion.

Many allergy suf ferers prefer nasal sprays and eye drops to relieve symptoms. However, such medications, which often require a prescription, can only be used for a few days. Use beyond a few days can actually make allergy symptoms worse.

Not all men and women can use decongestants to relieve their allergy symptoms. That’s because decongestants may raise blood pressure, essentially making them off limits to those who already have high blood pressure. Additional potential side effects of decongestants are insomnia, irritability and restricted urinary flow. When considering a decongestant to relieve allerg y symptoms, men and women should consult their physician before buying any products.

Steroids—Thanks to professional sports, many people shudder at the mere mention of the word “steroids.” However, steroids used to treat allergies are corticosteroids and not the anabolic steroids athletes use to build muscle. Steroids used to treat allergies can be nasal ( Flonase, Nasonex), inhaled (Flovent, Alvesco), eye drops (Alrex and Dexamethasone), or oral (Prednisone).

Steroids work by reducing inflammation and swelling. Steroids can be highly effective in treating allergies, and work for seasonal and year-round allergies as well as skin allergies. When prescribed a steroid to treat an allergy, it’s important for men and women to continue to take the medication daily as directed, even if the symptoms of the allergy have disappeared. This can be as long as two weeks.

Though highly ef fective, steroids do come with significant side effects. When taken orally, shortterm steroid use can cause weight gain, high blood pressure and fluid retention, while long-term use can result in muscle weakness, bonethinning osteoporosis and even diabetes. When taking inhaled steroids, men and women might suffer from coughing, hoarseness or even develop a yeast infection in their mouth.

Even though spring is commonly referred to as allergy season, men and women have a host of allergy treatment options to try. Before committing to any treatment, it’s best for a person to examine each option to determine which is the best fit for him or her.

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2011-06-02 digital edition

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