Healthbeat

3 ways to manage allergies

Allergies can cause great misery. Luckily, there are options to help manage symptoms and continue doing the things you enjoy. The goal is to find the treatment that best suits your allergies, your lifestyle, and your wallet. Here are three of the most common ways to find relief from allergy symptoms.

    Antihistamines
    These medications are the mainstay for treating the sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes that come with allergies. Antihistamines also relieve hives and other symptoms of some food allergies.

    Many people who suffer from hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) are familiar with the older antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton). While these drugs work well, they leave many people feeling groggy, sleepy, or just "out of it." Thankfully, the newer generation of antihistamines, including cetirizine (Zyrtec), desloratadine (Clarinex), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin), are far less likely to cause drowsiness at recommended doses. Their effects are also longer lasting, so usually you need to take them only once a day instead of every four to six hours.

    Decongestants
    Decongestants help relieve the stuffy, blocked-nose symptoms of nasal congestion. Short-term use of decongestants usually provides good symptom relief and can make you feel better quickly. But some decongestants can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and keep you awake at night. These medications can worsen prostate problems and glaucoma. If you have existing health problems—particularly a heart condition—be sure to get your doctor's advice before taking a decongestant. Regular use of decongestant nasal sprays can cause irreparable damage to the lining of the nose, so be sure to follow the directions exactly. Don't use these too often, or for many days at a time.

    Allergy shots
    Allergy shots can help reduce sensitivity to the triggers that set off your allergies. This therapy involves injecting small and increasing amounts of allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions) over regular intervals. Typically, this means weekly injections with increasing doses for three to six months and then monthly injections for three to five years.

    The treatment can be very effective for seasonal allergies that cause sneezing, nasal congestion, and itchy and swollen eyes. Allergy shots are almost always recommended for life-threatening allergies to stinging insects, and may help in the treatment of allergic asthma. Right now, allergy shots are not used to treat food allergies. The biggest drawback to this treatment is the risk of a potentially serious allergic reaction from the shot itself. Improvements in allergy extracts and dosing schedules have reduced this risk to what researchers estimate is about 1% of all allergy shots.

    For more on options on treating allergies buy What to do about Allergies, a Special Health Report from by Harvard Medical School.