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Allergy Relief: Getting Familiar With Allergy Medicines

Which allergy medicines are best for your needs?

What about antihistamines or decongestants?

Antihistamines cannot reverse the histamine-charged nasal allergy symptoms, Berger says. Antihistamines block the receptors -- the tissues that cause swelling -- to help prevent future symptoms. But they can undo the miserable allergy symptoms you may be experiencing the moment you take them.

Decongestants, another common allergy medicine, can relieve nasal congestion and nasal stuffiness. But, again, decongestants relieve existing problems, and don't prevent congestion.

"It takes several days to reverse any nasal allergy symptoms," Berger says, "So preventing allergies is the most effective way to get allergy relief."

What allergy medicines are available for ongoing allergy relief?

There are many targeted allergy medicines such as antihistamines, decongestants, steroids, and other anti-inflammatory medicines that can give you allergy relief. These allergy medicines are delivered in a variety of ways from oral pills, tablets, capsules, and liquids, to inhaled nasal sprays.  Some allergy medicines are available by prescription only, while others are available over-the-counter -- including the newer second-generation, non-drowsy antihistamines.

Working with your doctor, you can find the type of allergy medicine that's most effective for allergy relief without causing you uncomfortable side effects.

But what do all these allergy medicines mean to you and your allergy symptoms? Here's a brief overview of the various types of allergy medicines and how they work:

Steroid nasal sprays -- Control all allergy symptoms

Decongestants -- Control nasal stuffiness and congestion

Antihistamines -- Control sneezing and drippiness; may relieve congestion from allergy

Anticholinergics -- Control runny, drippy nose

Mast cell stabilizers -- Prevent nasal congestion before exposure to allergens

Combination allergy medicines -- Prevent nasal allergy and reduce swelling in stuffy nasal passages

Expectorants -- May thin mucus in the airways so it can be expelled or drain out

Allergy eyedrops -- Contain various ingredients to help with red, itchy eyes

If allergy medicines don't work, where can you turn for allergy relief?

If allergy medicines fail to prevent and treat your allergy symptoms, Berger suggests you see an allergist and consider getting allergy shots.

Allergy shots or immunotherapy is successful in up to 90% of patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis and in 70% to 80% with perennial allergic rhinitis. "And allergy shots (immunotherapy) can prevent allergy symptoms," Berger tells WebMD. 

Another reason for checking in with an allergist is you may not have allergies at all. Berger says many people have "nonallergic rhinitis," which are nasal allergy symptoms triggered by weather changes or by variations in temperatures. Nonallergic rhinitis can have different treatment than allergic rhinitis (allergies).

For now, don't give up the family pet until you find answers for your allergy symptoms. You may find out that your furry pet isn't the cause of your congested nose after all. Talk to your doctor and seek good answers so you can live allergy symptom free.

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Reviewed on February 18, 2009

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