Allergies are a pain in the … face. Having one symptom - runny nose, watery eyes, itchy throat - would be bad enough, but often those of us with allergies have to deal with them all at the same time. And despite our allergy haze, we are still expected to function like responsible adults. This is where allergy medications enter the picture, and why a pharmacy can seem both glorious and terrifying. While the shelves are stocked with seemingly endless options, how do we know what will work? The answer is we need to know how each medication works in order to understand which will work best for oursymptoms.
What are the types of allergy drugs?
To keep things focused, we’ll be covering only allergy medication used for seasonal or year-round allergies, hay fever and other runny-nose-inspiring allergies, and not topical creams, allergic emergency medications or allergic asthma treatments. Let’s start with the basics.
Antihistamines – When a person with allergies is confronted with an allergen (pollen, dust, animal dander, etc.), their body overreacts with a barrage of antibodies that release chemicals. One of those chemicals is called histamine, which causes the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, such as itching, sneezing and runny nose. Antihistamine drugs work to block histamine receptors and keep your allergy symptoms at bay. These drugs are classified as first and second generation, the main difference being that second generation drugs do not bring the same level of side effects, such as drowsiness. So, second-generation antihistamines are generally preferred.
Decongestants – During an allergic reaction, blood vessels in the nose and eyes swell in response to the allergen, causing swollen, red tissue and increased production in fluid or mucous. Decongestants work by shrinking these blood vessels. Oral decongestants are typically combined with an antihistamine.
Dry Nasal Corticosteroid – A new prescription drug just hit the market, as of April 2012, and it is the first dry nasal corticosteroid, rather than a liquid spray. The benefit of having a dry corticosteroid is there is no post-nasal dripping, as there is with traditional nasal sprays. Furthermore, this drug comes with a dose counter, so you know when you need a refill.
Nasal Sprays - Nasal sprays come in several different forms, however nasal- spray corticosteroids are considered to be the most effective treatment for controlling allergic rhinitis. Corticosteroids (often just referred to as steroids) reduce the inflammatory response in the body brought on by allergic reactions. Nasal corticosteroids are often used in combination with second-generation oral antihistamines, but can also be used alone. It’s important to note that nasal corticosteroids are only available by prescription, and can have some serious side effects. Generally, steroids carry a risk of long-term complications with prolonged use, however, nasal-spray form affects only local areas unless used excessively. Side effects include dryness, burning and stinging in the nasal passages, sneezing, headaches and nosebleeds.