What are the treatment options for environmental allergies?

There are many options available for treating environmental allergies. Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes, prescribe medication or suggest allergy shots (immunotherapy). Over-the-counter medications that treat allergy symptoms are also widely available.

Today's treatment options for allergies include antihistamines, decongestants, anti-inflammatory agents, bronchodilators, immunotherapy and omalizumab, a drug that reduces immunoglobulin E (IgE) availability.

Antihistamines, which block the action of histamine, thereby dampening the inflammatory response, remain the cornerstone of treatment for relatively mild allergic rhinitis (including hay fever). However, today's second-generation antihistamines are a considerable improvement on their medicinal forebears, which tended to make people drowsy—a serious concern when driving a car or operating machinery.

Decongestants, which are often used in combination with antihistamines, reduce nasal congestion by shrinking blood vessels.

Anti-inflammatory agents used for allergies include corticosteroids that dampen inflammation; mast cell stabilizers, which reduce the chemicals that fan the inflammatory response; and antileukotrienes, which reduce leukotrienes, chemicals that inflame the tissue of the airways. Antileukotrienes are used primarily in cases of persistent asthma.

Bronchodilators, of which there are several different classes, are used in respiratory diseases, including asthma, to help open up constricted airways.

Immunotherapy, often called "allergy shots," aims to desensitize the patient to the triggering allergen by gradually increasing exposure over a period of time. Allergists recommend this treatment only for allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis, allergic asthma and insect venom allergies. Immunotherapy doesn't work for food allergies. Indeed, the primary treatment for food allergies is not to eat the food that triggers the reaction.

Omalizumab, a monoclonal anti-IgE antibody, is a class of therapy for use in patients with persistent allergic asthma. The treatment works by lowering the amount of IgE available to attach to pollen and other inhaled allergens.

Many doctors recommend nasal irrigation as a safe and effective method of treating allergy symptoms. With nasal irrigation, saline solution (salt water) is used to rinse irritants out of the nose. A small squeeze bottle or neti pot (small pot with a special spout) is used for this purpose.

Decongestants treat environmental allergies by temporarily relieving symptoms such as nasal and sinus congestion. They are available in oral form (pills and liquids), nasal spray and eye drops. You can get decongestants over-the-counter or by prescription.

Immunotherapy is also known as allergy shots. Immunotherapy works by exposing your body to regular injections of an allergen. The goal is to desensitize your body and lessen your reaction to the allergen. The shots are usually given for between three and five years. Immunotherapy is particularly effective for pollen, pet dander and dust mite allergies.

Some people believe that alternative therapies can treat allergy symptoms. Alternative remedies include acupuncture, hypnosis, probiotics, local honey and herbs. There is little or no conclusive proof that alternative therapies are effective in treating allergy symptoms, however.

Continue Learning about Environmental Allergies

Maybe It’s a Spice Allergy
Maybe It’s a Spice Allergy
When the Spice Girls, Scary, Sporty, Ginger, Baby and Posh were sprinkling their pop vocals over the airwaves, some folks had a strong reaction to the...
Read More
How can I avoid a mold allergy?
Sigma NursingSigma Nursing
You can't prevent a mold allergy from developing, but you can prevent symptoms of an allergic reacti...
More Answers
Can non-celiac gluten sensitivity be treated with diet?
Michael Albertson, MDMichael Albertson, MD
If you have been diagnosed with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), start on gluten-free diet of v...
More Answers
What Role Do Genetics Play in Allergies?
What Role Do Genetics Play in Allergies?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.