How to Get Relief From Allergies: Management, Prevention, and Treatment

If you're experiencing itchy, red, watery eyes, or a dripping nose for longer than a week, you may have allergies. The best way to fight seasonal allergies is to identify and avoid your triggers. If that’s not possible, there are still ways to get relief.

Read more about how to manage and prevent allergies.

A person wearing a white shirt blowing their nose into a tissue.

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What Are Allergies?

Allergies are the symptoms that arise when the immune system responds to what it detects to be a foreign substance in the body. The substances that cause allergies can range from bee venom to pet dander, and even foods. The substances that cause an allergy response are called allergens.

Allergic antibodies (IgE) are formed when a person has an initial exposure to an allergen. IgE then binds to mast cells and basophils, and when that allergen is encountered again, it binds to the IgE and causes the release of allergic chemicals such as histamine.

Everyone reacts to allergens differently. Some people will not even realize that an allergen has entered their body, while others will have mild to severe reactions.

Causes

There are many potential causes of allergies. Examples of common allergens include:

When the body detects a substance that it thinks is an invader, it releases histamines as it works to make antibodies. Histamines are organic compounds that are made by the immune system that help the body get rid of an allergen. It's the release of histamines that leads to allergy symptoms.

How Common Are Allergies?

More than 50 million Americans have some type of allergy. The most common allergy condition is hay fever, or allergic rhinitis. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, allergies are the sixth-leading cause of chronic illness in the country.  

Symptoms

The symptoms of allergies range from mild to severe and can include:

Severe Allergic Reactions

A severe allergic reaction is referred to as anaphylaxis and is considered a life-threatening medical emergency. The signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction can include:

  • Severe itching of the face or eyes
  • Throat swelling
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Mental confusion or dizziness (caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure that can occur during a severe allergic reaction)

Is It Allergies or a Cold?

Some symptoms of colds and allergies are the same, but there are certain ones that will develop with a cold that you won't have if you just have allergies. For example, muscle and joint aches, fever, and a wet (productive) cough are more common in a cold.

How to Get Allergy Relief at Home

Even though they can be annoying or downright uncomfortable, most allergy symptoms are not serious. Here are a few ways that you can get relief from your allergies at home:

  • Use air filters: Air filters purify the air and remove pollutants or substances that can aggravate allergy symptoms.
  • Turn on a dehumidifier: By removing moisture from the air, you can turn your home into an environment where certain allergens such as mold would find it difficult to survive.
  • Shut windows and doors: Keep your home's doors and windows closed to lessen the number of pollutants in the air.
  • Monitor pollen levels: Regularly check the pollen counts where you live to help you plan ahead for high-pollen days.
  • Remove houseplants: Depending on the type of plants you have in your home, they might promote mold growth. You may want to avoid having houseplants or remove any that you think could be triggering your allergy symptoms or making them worse.
  • Try a sinus rinse: Sinus rinses are saline solutions used to rinse your nasal passages. Some studies have suggested that sinus rinses are effective at treating and managing allergy symptoms, especially if they are mostly affecting your nose.
  • Vacuum often: Vacuuming frequently will help reduce the amount of allergy-causing dust, dander, and debris in your home.

When to Seek Professional Treatment

If your allergy symptoms interfere with your ability to sleep or go about your daily life at home and at work, it's time to see your doctor. A healthcare provider can help you find the best way to manage and treat your allergies.

Allergy Medications

There are a few medications that can combat symptoms of allergies. Some of them are available over the counter, while others will require a prescription from your doctor.

  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of histamines in your body.
  • Decongestants: Decongestants help relieve congestion. However, research has shown that many people who self-medicate with nasal decongestants overuse them. If you want to try a decongestant, talk to your doctor first.
  • Nasal sprays: Nasal sprays are fast acting and do not have the same side effects as oral medications. Both decongestants and antihistamines come in nasal sprays, as do steroids.

Your doctor might recommend asthma medications such as inhalers to help treat your allergies.

Allergy Testing

If you have allergy symptoms but do not know what is causing them, you may want to consider allergy testing to find out. Allergy tests can identify the substances that you are having a reaction to.

The test that is used will depend on the allergy that is being investigated. Allergies can be diagnosed with blood tests, a skin test, or an elimination diet (for food allergies).

Allergy Test Risks

Allergy tests can have side effects such as itching, redness, and skin swelling. Small bumps may also form on the skin after an allergy test.

Rarely, a person may have a severe allergic reaction during the test, which is why all allergy tests should be performed in a medical office.

Allergy Shots (Immunotherapy)

Allergy shots are a form of immunotherapy in which a small amount of a specific allergen is injected into the body. This causes the immune system to respond and build up a certain level of immunity toward the allergen.

Allergy shots are effective for many people, but some studies show that the treatment needs to be done for at least three years for the body to build up enough immunity to the allergen.  

What to Do in an Emergency

If you start having symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, call 911. If you are able, tell the operator that you are having an allergic reaction and need medical assistance.

If you know that you have allergies and could potentially have a severe reaction, make sure that you always carry an EpiPen with you. If you start having symptoms, you can use your EpiPen while you wait for emergency medical help to arrive.

Summary

Allergy symptoms can be caused by many triggers in your home and environment. The severity of your symptoms will determine whether you can manage them at home or if you need to discuss other options, like medication, with your doctor.

If you are not sure what is triggering your allergy symptoms, there are tests that your doctor can perform to find out. Once you know what you are allergic to, it's important that you take steps to avoid your allergy triggers. It's also crucial to know the signs of a severe allergic reaction.

A Word From Verywell

Allergies can be triggered by many things in your home and environment—from dust and pollen to food and pets. Most symptoms of allergies, while annoying and disruptive at times, are not serious and can be managed at home.

However, if you have severe allergies you may need to talk to your doctor about your treatment options. You should also discuss what steps to take if you have a severe allergic reaction.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to get relief from allergies?

    There is no one set timeline that an allergic reaction adheres to. In some cases, the symptoms may last only a few hours or days. However, continuous exposure to an allergen could cause the symptoms to last for weeks or even months at a time. Treatment for allergies can ease symptoms and often work quickly; for example, many antihistamine medications can provide relief within one to two hours.

  • How will I know when I need treatment for my allergies?

    The severity of your symptoms will determine whether you need treatment. How you are affected by the symptoms—even if they’re only mild—will also be a factor to consider. If your allergies last for weeks or months at a time, interfere with your life, or are particularly hard to cope with, you should talk to your doctor about how to manage them more effectively.

  • Will my allergies and their symptoms go away on their own?

    There is no cure for allergies, but they do sometimes go away on their own. It's not unusual for kids to outgrow allergies. For adults, the weakening of the immune system that happens with age can lead to fewer allergy symptoms. However, there are certainly people who have allergies for life and need to learn ways to manage them.

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