How Allergies Are Treated

The treatment of allergies is dependent on the type of allergic disease, and it usually means that you must be actively engaged in addressing your condition holistically. You may be prescribed a medication such as an antihistamine or hydrocortisone, for example, but you will also need to work to avoid triggers to get adequate relief.

Allergy testing can identify the triggers you must avoid. Work with your doctor to find the right combination of medications to relieve symptoms and prevent or treat more severe allergic reactions.

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Your lifestyle will be key when it comes to treating your allergies. Avoidance of your allergy triggers is the cornerstone of treatment for all forms of allergy.

For Allergic Rhinitis

Avoidance of allergic triggers is always the primary treatment method for allergic rhinitis (a.k.a. hay fever). This form of treatment essentially costs nothing and has no side effects.

Do what you can to control the exposures that you can. For example, allergies to pet dander and house dust mites can be improved with tactics such as eliminating wall-to-wall carpeting and vacuuming with a HEPA filter or double-layered bag.

Of course, even with diligence, total avoidance of triggers is not always possible. For allergies to pollen and mold spores, keep watch on pollen and mold counts in weather reports and try to stay inside when levels are high. If that's not possible, you can at least keep car windows closed when driving and keeping windows closed in your home or office.

For Atopic Dermatitis

As allergic eczema is often seen in infancy, it is essential to discuss treatment with your pediatrician or dermatologist. Avoid known triggers like food allergens or very dry, hot environments. Maintain good skin care such as applying a moisturizer at least twice daily. Behavioral modifications can include limiting bath time to five to 15 minutes and controlling scratching by cutting fingernails short.

A vitamin D deficiency may worsen atopic dermatitis. It is good to be tested to see if you have a deficiency and then discuss whether sensible exposure to sunlight or taking a vitamin D supplement would be beneficial.

For Food Allergies

Avoiding the specific food to which you are allergic will often require a change of lifestyle. You will need to develop the habit of reading food labels, including knowing all of the names that can apply to the food to which you are allergic.

While some allergens must be noted per the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, such as milk or soy, that is not true for every allergen. Ask about ingredients at restaurants and know how to emphasize that it would be dangerous for you if you are exposed to the allergen.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

Over-the-counter antihistamines, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), can be used for mild reactions for many types of allergies. This includes mild food allergies, the itch associated with atopic dermatitis, and allergic rhinitis. However, these drugs can be sedating and caution is needed.

For Allergic Rhinitis

Over-the-counter medicated nasal sprays include NasalCrom (cromolyn), which can prevent symptoms if taken before you are exposed to your allergic triggers.

Afrin (oxymetazoline) and Neo-Synephrine (phenylephrine), spray-delivered decongestants, are helpful in treating nasal congestion. These medications should only be used for limited periods of three days every two to four weeks. Otherwise there can be a rebound/worsening of nasal congestion. Topical decongestants should be used with caution in patients with heart or blood pressure problems.

Oral decongestants, with or without oral antihistamines, can treat nasal congestion in people with allergic rhinitis. They should be used only occasionally and as needed because they can have long-term side effects including insomnia, headaches, elevated blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and nervousness.

Examples are Sudafed (pseudoephedrine), phenylephrine, and numerous combination products. Decongestant/antihistamine combination products for people age 12 and older include Allegra-D, Zyrtec-D, Clarinex-D, and Claritin-D.

Using a saline rinse or spray washes allergens out of your nose and can provide you with relief of symptoms. You can use this remedy as often as you like.

For Atopic Dermatitis

Hydrocortisone 1%, found in many over-the-counter brands of creams, ointments, and lotions, can be helpful for mild cases or use on the face or in skin folds. OTC bland emollients (moisturizers) may also be an effective form of topical treatment.

Coal tar soaps can help with mild cases of atopic dermatitis, but should be used with caution as they can be irritating.

Prescriptions

Control of allergic reactions can require prescription medications, which vary depending on the type of allergy and the severity of reaction.

For Allergic Rhinitis

There are numerous medications available for the treatment of allergy symptoms. In general, a medication that works particularly well for one person may not work for another, especially when the allergy symptoms are different.

Medication options include:

Food Allergies Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man

For Atopic Dermatitis

Topical steroid creams are the preferred therapies for worsening of atopic dermatitis. Other options, for when symptoms are severe, include topical calcineurin inhibitors (such as Elidel and Protopic) and oral steroids. Sometimes, the use of oral antibiotics is needed if there is a skin infection accompanying atopic dermatitis. 

For Food Allergy

If the culprit food is accidentally eaten, aggressive treatment of the subsequent reaction with prescription antihistamines and injected epinephrine may be necessary.

Being prepared to recognize and treat an allergic reaction from food allergies may be the most important aspect of the treatment of food allergies.

For Asthma

In general, there are two types of asthma medications: rescue and controller medicines. Most people with asthma require both medications.

Rescue medicines for asthma are bronchodilator inhalers that are taken as needed. They help relax the muscle around the airways for a few hours, but they do not help the inflammation and swelling of the airways.

Rescue inhalers should always be carried by the person with asthma, since an asthma attack can never be predicted.

Controller medicines are those medicines that are taken every day (sometimes multiple times a day), regardless of asthma symptoms, in an effort to consistently control inflammation and swelling of the airways. This leads to less irritation and constriction of the muscles around the airways and, therefore, fewer asthma symptoms.

These medicines usually take a few days or weeks to start working. A person with asthma then notices that less and less rescue medicine is needed.

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

More aggressive treatment may be considered in certain cases when other treatments have not be successful.

Allergy Shots

Allergy shots are a treatment option for allergic rhinitis when medications fail to adequately control allergy symptoms and avoidance of the trigger is not easy or possible. These are available from allergy specialists and are formulated for each patient individually.

This treatment consists of a series of injections containing small amounts of the substances to which a person is allergic. This is a long-term commitment (you'll receive injections for several years), but usually one that's worth it: After a course of allergy shots, 80% to 90% of patients have fewer allergy symptoms and, in many cases, allergy symptoms are completely resolved.

Bronchial Thermoplasty

Bronchial thermoplasty is a procedure approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010. It is used for severe asthma in patients 18 years of age and older whose symptoms are not controlled despite usual asthma therapies.

During bronchoscopy, a catheter is used to apply heat to the smooth muscle lining airways. This is done in three sessions.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Many people use complementary and alternative medicine remedies for their allergies and asthma, but none have research-backed proven effectiveness. While some may be used in conjunction with medical therapies, there are often risks of interactions with prescription and OTC medications.

A 2017 review of studies for complementary and alternative medicine used for asthma found that the studies done were rarely of good quality. They often had only one trial, performed on only a few subjects, had procedural flaws, and were at high risk for bias. Some of the therapies included in this review were vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, coenzyme Q10, and fish oil capsules.

The study of curcumin and studies of the Chinese herbal formula anti-asthma herbal medication intervention (ASHMI) showed the most promise.

Sixty percent of allergy specialists polled in a study said they have had patients who had adverse reactions to complementary alternative therapies. If you are taking any supplements or herbal medications, report these to your doctor so any interactions can be assessed and problems avoided.

A Word From Verywell

Treatment of allergies is often holistic. You will need to actively avoid your allergy triggers while using appropriate OTC and prescription treatments for symptom relief and preventing a severe reaction. While some allergic conditions may fade over time, often there is no cure. Work with your doctor to find the solutions that will give you the best quality of life.

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