Allergic Rhinitis: Medications
There are several different types of medications used for the treatment of inhalant allergies. These may be used alone or in combination to help control allergy symptoms.
- Antihistamines: This group of medications acts to block the release of histamine, the major chemical involved in an allergic reaction, from cells throughout the body. This in turn helps limit the allergic reaction. Antihistamines are best suited for the treatment of symptoms such as itching of the nose and often the eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. They are available by prescription as well as over the counter, and are generally well tolerated.
- Intranasal steroid sprays: This class is often considered one of the most effective treatments for nasal allergy symptoms because they also have the ability to prevent symptoms. They limit the immune response in the nasal tissues and in turn alleviate and prevent symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itching, congestion and post-nasal drainage. The technique used to apply these sprays is not difficult but should be reviewed, as misuse is the most frequent cause of side effects including sore throat and bleeding.
- Decongestants: These include Sudafed or pseudoephedrine, and phenylephrine. They are available mainly over the counter, and are often found in combination with antihistamines and/or expectorants. They effectively shrink back swollen nasal tissues in order to relieve congestion and can often limit post-nasal drainage. They are not recommended for patients with high blood pressure, glaucoma, enlarged prostate or urinary retention.
- Expectorants/mucolytics: This group is made up mainly of guiafenesin, which is designed to thin mucus secretions, allowing for sinus cavities and nasal passageways to drain more effectively. They are often used as an add-on therapy to decongestants.
- Intranasal antihistamine sprays: These work in much the same way as oral antihistamines, but are applied directly to the nasal tissues. They are effective against symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itching and post-nasal drip. They may help congestion in some patients.
- Antileukotrienes: Leukotrienes are chemicals released within the body for several reasons, including allergic responses, and contribute to inflammation. They are frequently more likely to be involved with asthma, but there are some patients who experience some relief of their nasal symptoms, particularly congestion, with this class of medication.
- Eye drops: For those patients whose eye symptoms are not well controlled with other medications, allergy eye drops are often recommended. They are available over the counter and by prescription, and are most beneficial when used prior to allergen exposure, or upon waking.