Treating allergies 

The best treatment for an allergy depends on which allergen is causing the reaction.

In some cases, avoiding the substance is the most effective way of managing an allergy. Read more about preventing allergic reactions.

The main medical treatment for an allergy involves using medication to control the symptoms.

If you experience severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) you may be prescribed an adrenaline injector. For severe cases of rhinitis, immunotherapy may be recommended.


Most treatments are available over the counter, but always ask your pharmacist or GP for advice before starting any new medication.


Antihistamines treat allergies by blocking the action of the chemical histamine, which the body releases when it thinks it is under attack from an allergen. Antihistamines can be taken in tablet, cream or liquid form, or as eye drops or nasal sprays.

Nasal sprays can be used to reduce swelling and irritation in your nose, and eye drops will help to relieve sore, itchy eyes. Some sprays and drops are only suitable for adults, so always ask your GP or pharmacist for advice before buying treatments for yourself or your children.


Decongestants help to relieve a blocked nose, which is often caused by hay fever, a dust allergy or a pet allergy. Decongestants can be taken as tablets, capsules, nasal sprays or liquids. They should not be used long term.

Leukotriene receptor antagonists

Leukotriene receptor antagonists are tablets that block the effects of leukotrienes, which are chemicals released during an allergic reaction and cause your airways to become inflamed (swell). They are used to treat asthma when other treatments have failed, and as a supplement to steroid treatment.

Steroid sprays

Corticosteroid sprays designed to act on the nasal lining and airways are effective in suppressing inflammation, particularly nasal congestion. Absorption into the body is minimal, so there are no adverse side effects.

Immunotherapy (desensitisation) 

Immunotherapy may be an option for a small number of people with severe rhinitis who are unable to effectively control their symptoms by avoiding the allergen or using medication.

Immunotherapy is a course of vaccines that lasts for three years. The aim is to reduce the severity of the allergy and the amount of medication needed to control symptoms.

The vaccine contains the allergen and can be given as an injection in the arm or as drops or tablets under the tongue. The injection can only be performed in a specialist clinic under the supervision of a doctor, as there is a small risk of anaphylaxis. The drops or tablets can usually be taken at home.

Treating anaphylaxis

Some people with severe allergies may experience life-threatening reactions to their allergen, known as anaphylaxis.

Symptoms of anaphylaxis include difficulty breathing and a drop in blood pressure, leading to loss of consciousness.

If you have an allergy that could cause anaphylaxis, you will be given an auto-injection kit of adrenaline, along with a written treatment plan and appropriate training. 

The auto-injector is an easy-to-use syringe that you should carry with you at all times. The brands currently prescribed in the UK are the EpiPen and Anapen.

You might also want to consider wearing a medical information bracelet, or another form of identification that carries information about your condition.

Read more about the treatment of anaphylaxis.

Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) are treated with an adrenaline injection 

Page last reviewed: 01/04/2014

Next review due: 01/04/2016