Allergy Medications Overview
Looking for information about the unique medications allergists use for treating allergy symptoms? You’ve come to the right place.
Allergy medications come in a variety of types, from shots(injections) to pills, eyedrops, nasal sprays, inhalers and liquids. While many of the most effective allergy medications are available only by prescription, there are viable alternatives available over the counter (OTC). Here, we summarize the varied types of medications used to treat allergy symptoms.
Quick Links: ANTIHISTAMINES | DECONGESTANTS | CORTICOSTEROIDS | MAST CELL STABILIZERS | IMMUNOTHERAPY
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When an allergic reaction is happening, your body releases a type of chemical called ‘histamine’ that triggers allergy symptoms. These types of medications block that chemical.
LIQUIDS AND PILLS
Antihistamines help relieve runny nose, watery or itchy eyes, swelling, hives (urticaria), and other common allergy symptoms. Antihistamines are available in OTC strengths and as a prescription.
Older antihistamines are commonly known for their primary side effect: drowsiness.
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
Not all antihistamine medications cause drowsiness, such as these:
- Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)
- Fexofenadine (Allegra)
- Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- Desloratadine (Clarinex)
- Levocetirizine (Xyzal)
Antihistamines are also available as nasal sprays. Just like pills or liquids, these sprays help to relieve sinus congestion, postnasal drip, itchy and runny nose, and sneezing. Unfortunately, they also have side effects such as fatigue, bitter taste or drowsiness. Available as prescriptions, they include:
- Olopatadine (Patanase)
- Azelastine (Astepro, Astelin)
One unique product is a combination of antihistamine and corticosteroid (see more about corticosteroids later in this guide):
- Azelastine / Fluticasone (Dymista)
Another type of antihistamine is available as eyedrops as both OTC or prescription medications. These drops are designed to relieve swollen, red, itchy eyes. They may combine antihistamines with other medications.
Dry eyes or headache are listed as typical side effects. We suggest that you refrigerate them to minimize stinging. These medications may include:
- Pheniramine (Visine-A, Opcon-A, others)
- Ketotifen (Alaway, Zaditor)
- Azelastine (Optivar)
- Olopatadine (Pataday, Patanol)
- Emedastine (Emadine)
MAST CELL STABILIZERS
This type of medication blocks the release of immune system chemicals that contribute to allergic reactions. These medications are considered safe but usually require use for several days to reach full effect. They are typically substituted when antihistamines aren’t well tolerated or don’t work at all.
OTC nasal sprays are sold under the brand name Nasalcrom or generic name “cromolyn.”
Prescription only eye drops include:
- Nedocromil (Alocril)
- Cromolyn (Crolom)
- Pemirolast (Alamast)
- Lodoxamide (Alomide)
Leukotrienes are allergy-symptom causing chemicals that are blocked by the medication. This drug is approved for treatment of both hay fever and asthma.
- Montelukast (Singulair)
Side effects of leukotriene inhibitors may include irritability, anxiousness, hallucinations, depression, suicidal thinking or behavior, insomnia, and aggression.
The purpose of decongestants is to temporarily relieve sinus and nasal congestion. Side effects can include headache, irritability, elevated blood pressure and headache. We do not recommend them for pregnant women or patients with glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, cardiovascular disease, and especially those who already suffer from elevated blood pressure.
LIQUIDS AND PILLS
The purpose of oral decongestants is to relieve sinus congestion and nasal congestion caused by allergic rhinitis. Some of these medications, such as pseudoephedrine (Afrinol, Sudafed, and others), are available as OTC drugs.
A popular choice is a combination of oral allergy medications that contain both antihistamine and a decongestant. For example:
- Loratadine and pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D)
- Fexofenadine and pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D)
- Cetirizine and pseudoephedrine (Zyrtec-D)
- Desloratadine and pseudoephedrine (Clarinex-D)
NASAL DROPS AND SPRAYS
These medications relieve sinus and nasal congestion when used for a relatively short period. Use of these medications for more than three days in a row could result in congestion actually getting worse. Examples include:
- Tetrahydrozoline (Tyzine)
- Oxymetazoline (Afrin, Dristan, others)
Immunotherapy is designed to train the body’s immune system not to react to common allergens, such as pollen, molds and dust mites. A long-term therapy, the treatment includes timed and gradually increased exposure to those allergens. This treatment may be used when others aren’t working or well-tolerated.
Immunotherapy is typically given as a series of shots, once or twice a week for several months, followed by a less frequent treatment of maintenance shots that may continue up to five years.
Ironically, side effects may include allergy symptoms such as hives, congestion or sneezing. Allergy shots can occasionally call anaphylaxis, a severe, sudden, life-threatening allergic reaction that causes difficulty breathing and swelling in the throat.
SUBLINGUAL IMMUNOTHERAPY (SLIT)
This type of treatment involves placing a tablet under your tongue and allowing it to be absorbed. Shown to reduce congestion, eye irritation, runny nose and other hay fever symptoms, this therapy may prevent the development of asthma. SLIT tablets contain pollen extracts from various types of grasses, including Short Ragweed, Sweet Vernal, Orchard, Perennial Tye, Timothy Grass and Kentucky Bluegrass.
EMERGENCY EPINEPHRINE SHOTS
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, life-threatening severe allergic reaction involving swelling of the throat and difficulty breathing. This type of medication is given through a self-injecting syringe and needle or autoinjector. Patients who may have a severe allergic reaction to food (such as peanuts) or if you have an allergy to bee or wasp venom may wear an alert bracelet.
Usually packaged in pairs, a second injection if often needed. And you should call 9-1-1 or seek emergency medical treatment any time an emergency shot is administered.
If you need an emergency injector, our staff will instruct you in the use of it. The method of injection varies by brand, so be sure to get the exact brand and type prescribed by your physician. One final note: be sure to check the expiration date for your emergency epinephrine and replace before that date. Brands include:
GET YOUR ALLERGIST INVOLVED
Work with one of our experienced allergy doctors to choose the most effective allergy medications and treatment for the best results.
All of these medications have side effects, and some can cause serious reactions when combined with other medications.
If you’re experiencing allergy symptoms, consider scheduling an appointment with our board-certified allergists. We have four convenient locations in Atlanta, Cumming, Duluth and Roswell. We offer same day appointments and we help our patients get quick relief from the allergy symptoms.
ABOUT OUR PHYSICIANS
Dr. Paul S. Rabinowitz is recognized by Atlanta Magazine as one of “Atlanta’s Top Allergists” and has been selected as a featured speaker on the treatment of allergic rhinitis, asthma, and urticaria. He has won numerous awards, including the Vitals.com Compassionate Doctor Award – 5 Year Honoree (2014). He is certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology – Board Certified in both pediatric and adult allergy & immunology and by the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Dr. Mark D. Livezey moved to Atlanta in 1988 from Michigan to join Allergy & Asthma Consultants, finding a life-long career. He thoroughly enjoys the wide range of patients seen in allergy practice from infants to the elderly. He was honored with the Jezebel Magazine’s Top 5 Allergists 2013 award and the Vitals.com Patients Choice Award. He is certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology, and by the American Board of Internal Medicine.
Dr. Glen L. Nadel is an Atlanta native who moved back to Atlanta after completing his medical training. He has won the Vitals.com Patients’ Choice Award and the Patients’ Choice America’s Most Compassionate Doctors award. He is certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology in Pediatric and Adult Allergy and Immunology and by the American Board of Pediatrics.
SAVE ON YOUR ALLERGY MEDICATIONS
Visit our medication savings page to find out how you can save on your next allergy medication purchase.