The management of allergy symptoms usually involves 3 steps. Firstly, it is vital that the specific cause, or allergen, is identified. The next step in allergy treatment is to minimise exposure to the allergen. Finally, allergies may be treated with medication or immunotherapy.
Identifying the cause of allergy symptoms
Depending on the allergy, it may be quite easy for a person to identify the responsible allergen, based on the timing of their symptoms. For example, a person who develops symptoms of sneezing, watery eyes, itchy throat and a runny nose soon after coming into contact with an animal, such as a cat, can very easily pinpoint the cause of the allergy. For others, it might be more difficult to identify the cause, especially when symptoms are subtle or occur on a continuous basis. In these cases, a doctor may recommend either a skin prick test or blood test to determine the specific allergy. Skin prick tests are commonly used to detect allergies to mould, pollen, dust mites and insect venom. Testing involves scratching or pricking a drop of purified allergen into the skin, which is then observed for a reaction.
Avoiding exposure to the allergen
Once an allergen has been identified, it may be possible to avoid exposure through lifestyle modifications. For example, a person with a pet allergy may avoid coming into contact with the animal, while a person with dust allergies may ask for help with the housework and vacuuming. If allergy symptoms persist despite efforts to avoid the allergen, or if allergen avoidance is not possible, there are several treatment options available.
Treatment for Hayfever Allergies
Hayfever is an allergic condition triggered by the inhalation of airborne pollen particles. The allergic reaction causes the release of histamine in the body, which is responsible for the inflammation associated with hay fever, particularly in the nose. Treatment with a non-sedating antihistamine medication, such as Telfast, can help to control symptoms such as sneezing and itching. In the case of severe or ongoing hay fever symptoms, a corticosteroid nasal spray may be used in conjunction with an oral antihistamine. Steroid nasal sprays act directly on the nasal mucosa to alleviate inflammation, which is the cause of nasal congestion and associated symptoms.
Treatment for itchy throat
The part of the body an allergen touches will affect which allergy symptoms a person is likely to develop. In the case of pollen particles, which are breathed in, a person is likely to experience respiratory symptoms. These include a stuffy, itchy nose, mucous production, cough and throat symptoms. An itchy throat is a common symptom associated with allergies and histamine release. An oral antihistamine medication, such as Telfast, can help to alleviate any itching or discomfort in the throat.
Treatment for runny nose
A runny nose associated with allergies may be treated with corticosteroid nasal sprays. The use of intranasal corticosteroids is recommended only for short term relief of nasal allergy symptoms (up to 3-6 months). The therapeutic effect of this form of treatment is usually not immediate, but becomes apparent within a few days of starting treatment. Decongestant nasal sprays may also be helpful for quick relief of allergy symptoms. However, it is not recommended that these be used for longer than a few days, as long-term use may damage the lining of the nose.
Treatment for watery eyes
Allergens that touch the eyes may cause watery, itchy, red and swollen eyes. Touching or rubbing your eyes may increase the amount of pollen they are exposed to. Wearing sunglasses, showering when you arrive home and frequently bathing your eyes with a wet washcloth are all steps that will help to minimise exposure of your eyes to pollen. Medicated eye drops may also help to relieve these symptoms. Your doctor or pharmacist will be able to give you advice on the correct eye drops to use.
Immunotherapy is the only long term treatment option for allergy sufferers, as medications only reduce the severity of symptoms in the short term. Immunotherapy, also known as desensitisation, involves the repeated administration of small doses of allergen extracts, often over the course of a few years.
The allergens are administered by injection or sublingual (under the tongue) drops. Over time, you become immune to the allergens and are able to tolerate them with little or no allergy reaction. This form of treatment is often recommended for hay fever when symptoms are severe, if the responsible allergen is difficult to avoid, or when medication is ineffective or causes side effects. Allergy symptoms do not improve immediately with immunotherapy. Four to five months is usually required before symptoms improve, sometimes more. It is also recommended that immunotherapy be continued for 3 – 5 years to reduce the risk of the allergy returning. Immunotherapy is a treatment that should only be carried out by a doctor specially trained in allergies.
For more information, ASCIA website.