John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
There are many types of anti-allergy medications. The choice of medication and how it is given depends on the severity of the reaction.
For relief of long-term allergies such as hay fever or reactions to dust or animal dander, the following medications may be
recommended or prescribed:
Long-acting antihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine
(Claritin), can relieve symptoms without causing sleepiness. Formerly available by prescription only, you can now find these medications over the counter. They are meant to be taken for months at a time, even indefinitely. Most can be taken once a day and last for 24 hours.
Nasal corticosteroid sprays
are widely prescribed for nasal symptoms not relieved by antihistamines. These
prescription medications work very well and are safe, without the side effects
of taking steroids by mouth or injection. These sprays take a few days to take effect and must be used every day. Examples are fluticasone (Flonase), mometasone (Nasonex), and triamcinolone (Nasacort).
For severe reactions, the following medications are usually given right away to rapidly reverse symptoms:
This drug is given only in very severe reactions
It is injected and acts as a bronchodilator
(dilates the breathing tubes).
It also constricts the blood vessels, increasing
For a less severe reaction involving the respiratory tract, an inhaled medication similar to epinephrine may be used, as in asthma.
Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
This drug is given in an IV or in a muscle to
the actions of histamine.
Oral diphenhydramine is usually enough for a less severe reaction.
Corticosteroids are usually given via IV at first for rapid reversal of the effects of the mediators.
These drugs should not be confused with the
steroids taken illegally by athletes to build muscle and strength.
These drugs reduce swelling and many other symptoms
of allergic reactions.
You will probably need to take an oral
corticosteroid for several days after this.
Oral corticosteroids are often given for less
A corticosteroid cream or ointment may be
used for skin reactions.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays reduce the discomfort of a "stuffy" nose.
Other medications may be given as needed.
In some people, cromolyn sodium nasal spray prevents allergic rhinitis,
inflammation of the nose that occurs as an allergic reaction.
Decongestants can restore sinus drainage, relieving symptoms such as nasal congestion, swelling, runny nose, and sinus pain (pain or pressure in the face, especially around the eyes). They are available in oral forms and as nasal sprays. They should be used for only a few days, as they may have side effects such as high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and nervousness.