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Allergic Reaction (cont.)

Allergic Reaction Medications

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:

  • Epinephrine
    • This drug is given only in very severe reactions (anaphylaxis).
    • It is injected and acts as a bronchodilator (dilates the breathing tubes).
    • It also constricts the blood vessels, increasing blood pressure.
    • 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 rapidly reverse the actions of histamine.
    • Oral diphenhydramine is usually enough for a less severe reaction.
  • Corticosteroids
    • 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 severe reactions.
    • 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, or 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.

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