- Antihistamines. These medications counter the effects of histamine, the substance that makes eyes water and noses itch during allergic reactions. While helpful in alleviating symptoms, older antihistamines often can cause adverse side effects, such as drowsiness. Newer antihistamines are as effective as older antihistamines, but do not cause drowsiness and have very few side effects. However, antihistamines do not effectively treat severe allergy symptoms or nasal swelling (congestion).
- Topical nasal steroids. These anti-inflammatory nasal sprays help by decreasing the number of inflammatory cells in the nose and reducing mucus production and nasal swelling. Nasal steroids work well in combination with antihistamines and are relatively free of side effects.
- Cromolyn sodium. Also a nasal spray, cromolyn sodium can help stop hay fever, perhaps by blocking release of histamine and other symptomproducing chemicals. This product has few side effects.
- Decongestants. Decongestants constrict blood vessels and thereby may relieve nasal congestion. Available in oral and nasal preparations, decongestants thin nasal secretions and can reduce swelling and sinus discomfort. They are usually used in combination with antihistamines. They are intended for short-term use; long-term usage can actually make symptoms worse.
- Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) might be a good course of action for patients who have had inadequate symptom relief with antihistamines and topical nasal steroids. Through injection under the skin, immunotherapy alters the body's immune response to allergens and thereby helps prevent allergic reactions.
Finding Relief from Allergy's Grip
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Summer 2006 Issue: Page 21