Allergies - Treatment 

Treating allergies 

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

Wherever possible, the most effective way of managing an allergy is to avoid all contact with the allergen.

Medication

Medication can't cure your allergy, but can be used to treat the common symptoms of an allergy, such as a runny nose, itchy mouth and sneezing. Most treatments are available over the counter but always ask your pharmacist or GP for advice before starting to take any new medication.

Antihistamines

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

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 that cause inflammation (swelling) of your airways. 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 adverse side effects are avoided.

Hyposensitisation (immunotherapy)

Another form of treatment for allergies is hyposensitisation, also known as immunotherapy.
Hyposensitisation works by gradually introducing more and more of the allergen into your body to make it less sensitive to it.

The allergens are usually given as injections under the skin of your upper arm. In the initial stages of treatment you will be given injections at intervals of a week or less, while allergen doses are gradually increased. When you reach the "maintenance dose", a dose that is effective in reducing your normal allergic reaction, you will need to continue to have injections of this dose every few weeks for at least two years.

Hyposensitisation is normally only recommended for the treatment of severe allergies (such as hay fever and pet allergies) that have not responded to other treatments, and for specific allergies such as bee and wasp stings.

This type of treatment must only be carried out under the close supervision of a doctor in a hospital, because there is a risk that it may cause a serious allergic reaction.

Treating anaphylaxis

If you have anaphylactic shock, you will need emergency treatment with an injection of adrenaline into the muscle.

If you have an allergy that could cause anaphylactic shock, or if you have had a severe allergic reaction in the past, you will be given an auto-injection kit of adrenaline. This 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.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is having anaphylactic shock, dial 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Read more about the treatment of anaphylactic shock.


Page last reviewed: 23/03/2012

Next review due: 23/03/2014

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