Skip to content

Allergies Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Blocking Allergy Symptoms: How Pretreatment Works

Tackle allergies before they start, and you could be breathing a lot easier.
By
WebMD Feature

For lots of people, allergy treatment is reactive. You get stuffed up, your eyes water, and then you go to the medicine cabinet for relief. But many doctors say that we’ve got it the wrong way around. Instead, we should be taking the medicine before we have symptoms. Call it allergy pretreatment.

“We always tell people to start taking medicine before the allergy season begins,” says Jonathan A. Bernstein MD, an allergist and professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cincinnati. “People often come to me in the middle of the allergy season, and they’re already a mess. Once the symptoms start, they can be like a runaway train.”

Recommended Related to Allergies

Seasonal Allergies: 4 Routes to Relief

Ah, fall. The perfect time to get outside for long walks in the neighborhood, hikes in the hills, and autumn gardening. But that "ah" can quickly become "ah-choo" if you're one of the 36 million Americans with seasonal allergy problems. The runny nose, itchy eyes, and congestion -- all typical fall allergy symptoms -- can slow you down and make you miserable. While there have been no dramatic advances recently in allergy treatment, experts say if you are allergy-prone, you can take a number of...

Read the Seasonal Allergies: 4 Routes to Relief article > >

By waiting, you could be risking more than mild discomfort. Once allergy symptoms start, you might need more heavy-duty medicine to get them under control. In some people, allergy symptoms quickly turn into allergic sinusitis and more serious problems. That requires even more intensive treatment.

So the key to getting through the allergy season is to have a good defense. By arming yourself with medicine before the trees unleash their pollen -- or before you go visit your sister and her five cats -- you can save yourself a lot of suffering. How does allergy pretreatment work? Here are the answers.

Understanding Allergy Symptoms

Basically, an allergy symptom is the result of your immune system overreacting. It mistakes a harmless substance (like pollen or animal dander) for something more sinister (like a germ or virus) and attacks it. Common allergy symptoms -- like a runny nose -- are collateral damage, side effects of the immune system’s battle with an allergen.

After exposure to an allergen, the immune system releases the chemical histamine into your system. The histamine travels through your blood and latches onto histamine receptors on other cells. Once attached, the histamine causes the cells to swell. This inflammation causes many familiar allergy symptoms. Antihistamine drugs work by blocking the histamine from affecting these cells.

“By taking medicine early, you can prevent the inflammation from starting,” Bernstein tells WebMD. “The drugs block the histamine receptors and the histamine can’t bind with the cells.” Hence, no inflammation and no symptoms -- or at least fewer symptoms.

But if you take the drug after you have allergy symptoms, the histamine has already latched on. It’s already triggered the inflammatory process. Your body has already mobilized for a fight. It can be hard to get it to calm down again. It’s much easier to prevent the reaction than to try to stop it after the fact.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

man blowing nose
Make these tweaks to your diet, home, and lifestyle.
Allergy capsule
Breathe easier with these products.
 
cat on couch
Live in harmony with your cat or dog.
Woman sneezing with tissue in meadow
Which ones affect you?
 

blowing nose
Article
woman with sore throat
Article
 
lone star tick
Slideshow
Woman blowing nose
Slideshow
 

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

cat lying on shelf
Article
Allergy prick test
VIDEO
 
Man sneezing into tissue
Assessment
Woman holding feather duster up to face, twitching
Quiz