What am I allergic to?
You know you have allergies — your constant runny nose and itchy eyes are clear indicators. But can you actually discover what you’re allergic to? You sure can! With an in-office skin test or at-home blood test, you can discover the specific allergens causing your symptoms. This will help us determine an accurate treatment plan that suits your needs and lifestyle.
How do I treat my allergies?
Once we’ve determined your specific allergens, we can discuss treatment. There are several options for treating allergies, including:
- Allergen immunotherapy
- Lifestyle changes
- Allergy medications (prescription and over the counter)
We often recommend a combination of these to get your allergy symptoms under control.
Allergen Immunotherapy Treatments
Allergen immunotherapy has become a popular allergy treatment option because it treats your symptoms long-term, eliminating the need for medications and lifestyle changes over time.
How does immunotherapy work?
Allergen immunotherapy comes in two forms — allergy shots and allergy drops. It’s a long-term allergy treatment that helps decrease your body’s response to allergens. Immunotherapy works by gradually introducing your body to your specific allergens over an extended period of time (either through a shot or through drops under the tongue). Your body develops tolerance to the allergen as you slowly increase your doses over several years. Most patients report a decrease in symptoms within the first three months.
Drops Vs. Shots
For many years, allergy shots were the only allergen immunotherapy treatment option. However, over the past 20 years, allergy drops (or sublingual therapy) has grown in popularity because of how convenient this treatment option is. With allergy shots, you’re required to make a weekly or monthly office visit for four to five years. On the other hand, allergy drops can be taken at home, at your convenience, without sacrificing effectiveness. Because of this our team at Advanced ENT & Allergy Center began focusing on using sublingual drops in 2005, and since then has successfully treated thousands of allergy patients.
The simplest and most cost-effective way to treat your allergies is by making some small lifestyle changes. While you can’t always eliminate allergens entirely, there are several strategies you can implement to help keep symptoms under control. A few of these actions are:
- Reduce exposure. Stay inside on dry, windy days. Wear a mask if you do chores outside. Avoid mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, and working in the garden during high pollen count times.
- Protect indoor air. Close your windows and use the air conditioner. A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can help trap irritants like dust, pollen, and pet dander to reduce allergens in your home. Dehumidifiers can help keep your indoor air dry. Also, consider using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, as well.
- Try natural supplements. Many herbal supplements are linked to reducing allergy symptoms including butterbur, bromelain, allium, euphrasia, spirulina, eyebright, and goldenseal. Research also shows that ingesting a spoonful of local honey once a day can help your body stop recognizing allergens as a threat, reducing symptoms over time.
- Keep allergens outside. Change your clothes and take a shower after being outdoors. Wash your clothes and bedding frequently. Leave dirty shoes outside.
- Clean out your nasal passages. Nasal sprays or a Neti pot can flush out your nasal passages and help you breathe easier. A vaporizer (either store-bought or homemade) can also help clean out mucus and provide immediate relief.
Allergy medications come in many forms, including pills, liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops. These are available over the counter (OTC) and by prescription, depending on the medication. While they don’t cure your allergies, they can help ease symptoms like congestion, itchy eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. An allergy specialist can help you determine which medications will work best for you.
Allergy medication options include:
Antihistamines work by blocking the effects of histamine and relieving symptoms like sneezing, itching, congestion, and watery eyes. Antihistamines can be pills, liquids, nasal sprays, or eye drops, and can be found OTC or prescribed by a doctor.
– Common OTC antihistamine medications include: Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin, Alavert, Benadryl, Dimetapp, Zaditor, and OcuHist.
– Common prescription antihistamines include: Clarinex, Astelin, Optivar, Elestat, and Patanol.
What are the side effects of antihistamines?
Many OTC antihistamines can cause drowsiness (like Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton). However, newer versions are available that don’t make you sleepy. Other side effects include:
- Dry mouth, nose, or throat
- Upset stomach
- Thickening mucus
- Increased appetite
- Changes in vision
- Feeling irritable or nervous
Decongestants relieve congestion by shrinking swollen nasal tissues and blood vessels, relieving swelling, stuffy nose, mucus production, and redness. Decongestants can be found as pills, liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops, and are often prescribed in addition to antihistamines for allergies.
– Common OTC decongestants include: Sudafed, Neo-Synephrine, Afrin, and some Visine drops.
What are the side effects of decongestants?
Decongestants can cause:
- Increased blood pressure
- Restricted urinary flow
Note: Nasal spray and eye drop decongestants should only be used for a few days, as long-term usage can exacerbate symptoms.
Steroids, or corticosteroids, reduce inflammation to treat nasal congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, and other swelling due to allergic reactions. Steroids are available as pills, liquids, inhalers (for asthma), nasal sprays, topical creams (for skin allergies), and eye drops. Steroids are highly effective for allergies, but they have to be taken regularly (usually one a day) in order to experience the full benefit. Often, relief is delayed one to two weeks after starting a steroid medication treatment.
– OTC nasal steroids include: Rhinocort Allergy, Flonase Allergy Relief, Nasacort Allergy 24HR.
– Prescription nasal steroids include: Beconase, Qnasl, Qvar, Alvesco, Omnaris, Zetonna, Veramyst, and Nasonex.
– Steroid eye drops include: Maxidex and Alrex.
– Oral steroids include: Deltasone.
What are the side effects of steroids?
Steroids can cause a wide range of side effects, both short-term and long-term. These include:
- Weight gain
- Fluid retention
- High blood pressure
- Growth suppression
- Muscle weakness
- Cough / hoarseness of breath (for inhaled steroids)
Mast Cell Stabilizers
Mast cell stabilizers block the release of immune system chemicals like histamine and leukotriene, preventing allergic reactions in the eyes or nasal passages and reducing inflammation. They come as eye drops and nasal sprays. They are used to prevent seasonal allergies, and are therefore given to patients about two weeks before allergy season begins.
Common mast cell stabilizers include: Optocrom, Alomide, Alocril, and Alamast.
What are the side effects of mast cell stabilizers?
Mast cell stabilizers may cause:
- Throat irritation
- Burning, stinging, or blurred vision (for eye drops)
Leukotrienes are chemicals that the body releases in response to specific allergens. This release can cause airway constriction, inflammation in the lungs, and increased mucus production. Leukotriene modifiers work by blocking leukotrienes and reducing asthma and allergic rhinitis symptoms. These are available by prescription only, and come as pills, chewable tablets, and oral granules.
The only leukotriene modifier with FDA approval is montelukast, or Singulair.
What are the side effects of leukotriene modifiers?
Side effects of leukotriene modifiers are rare, but can include:
- Upset stomach
Combination Allergy Drugs
Many allergy medications contain an antihistamine and a decongestant, to help relieve multiple allergy symptoms. Other combination allergy drugs can block the effects of histamine and prevent mast cells from releasing chemicals.
– Some OTC combination allergy medications include: Zyrtec-D, Allegra-D, Benadryl Allergy and – – – Sinus, Claritin-D, Actifed, Naphcon A
– Some prescription combination allergy drugs include: Semprex-D and Dymista
Other over the counter products that can help with allergy symptoms include:
- Saline nasal sprays to relieve congestion
- Artificial tears to relieve itchy, red eyes
Treating Your Allergies at Advanced ENT & Allergy
We recognize that there are many ways to treat your allergies. Our goal is always to provide a plan that meets your needs and works with your lifestyle. If you’re suffering from allergies in Colorado, our allergy specialists are ready to meet with you to help you start on the path towards finding relief from your allergy symptoms.