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A detailed list and overview of the different types of common drugs for allergies and how they can help.

Allergies affect millions of people every day, and reactions for most are mild. However, they can range to severe symptoms, including difficulty breathing, hives, and other detrimental effects, especially for those who already have asthma. It’s important to avoid the allergens that cause a reaction, but sometimes that’s impossible.

Allergy drugs can help reduce the effects felt from an allergic reaction, and this is true regardless of the type of allergy. Knowing what types of allergy medications are available can help sort out the best solution for whatever issues a patient faces.


An allergy triggers the immune system to produce histamine. This is a chemical that causes inflammation in the nose and other areas of the body, leading to the symptoms that come with allergies. An antihistamine reduces and blocks histamine from causing this issue, so symptoms are reduced.

Antihistamines are some of the longest prescribed allergy medications available. They are available over the counter as well as with a doctor’s prescription, and they can be found in the form of pills, liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops. While some of the newer available medications are less likely to cause a problem, typical antihistamines usually involve drowsiness, especially those available over the counter.


A decongestant is often recommended to assist with symptoms of allergies while awaiting antihistamines and other medications to take effect. A decongestant offers relief by reducing the inflammation in the nasal passages that result from an allergic reaction. This can kill stuffiness and relieve some of the pressure felt, though it can’t stop symptoms such as itching and sneezing.

Decongestants are available in all the same forms as antihistamines for treatment, including liquids, pills, eye drops, and nasal sprays. A doctor can prescribe them, or there are several over the counter options to choose from.

However, decongestants can’t be continued as a long term treatment. In fact, taking this type of medication can actually cause an allergic reaction to worsen if used for too long. Decongestants are best kept to no more than three or four days of treatment.

Anticholinergic nasal sprays

One of the worst symptoms of an allergic reaction is runny nose, which can lead to further irritation of the nose and raw, sore skin on the face and lips. This type of medication is sprayed into each nostril and works to decrease the secretion that allergies cause to leak from the glands that are lining both nasal passages.

Because this can cause an excessively dry nose, there are a few minor side effects that can occur from use, including:

  • Nosebleed
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Sore throat

Steroid nasal sprays

Now available both over the counter and by prescription, corticosteroids, or steroid nasal sprays, are the first recommendations doctors make these days due to how effective they are. The spray into the nostrils works to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, allowing for clearing and decongestion, which aids in relieving all of the most common symptoms of allergies.

Steroids have become a preferred treatment by doctors because there are few side effects, with general nasal irritation, sore throat, or light nosebleeds from dry nose. They are safe for use for long periods of time, and they are extremely effective for almost anyone.

Corticosteroids are also available in pill form and can be effectively used by those who can’t tolerate a nasal spray. However, these aren’t as highly recommended, with various possible side effects and less effectiveness than the spray version.

Allergy eye drops

One common allergy symptom is irritation of the eyes, appearing as:

  • Itching or burning in the eye
  • Tearing and weeping eyes
  • Feeling as though something is stuck in the eye
  • Swollen eyelids or puffiness around the eye
  • Red or bloodshot eyes

Allergy eye drops are used to reduce the symptoms of an allergic reaction that involves the eye. Not all eye drops are made for allergy symptoms, and it could help to speak to a physician to determine what treatment is best for what type of allergy. For example, one type of eye drop may relieve itch but not help swelling.

If artificial tears or a cold rag over the eyes don’t relieve symptoms, a doctor may prescribe eye drops containing antihistamine, decongestant, anti-inflammatories, mast cell stabilizers, or a combination of treatments.

Leukotriene inhibitors

Montelukast, or Singulair, is the only leukotriene inhibitor available with FDA approval and is used in the treatment of both allergies and asthma. A chemical in the body – leukotriene – is responsible for actions related to asthma and allergies, including:

  • Inflammation of the nasal passages
  • Excess production of mucus
  • Tightening of the airways, affecting the ability to breathe

The use of this medicine, available only by prescription, reduces swelling and tightening of the nasal passages and airways by blocking the production of leukotriene and stabilizing the body’s reaction to it. This, in turn, relieves symptoms such as sneezing, itching of the nose and eyes, runny nose or watery eyes, and more.

It does have some side effects to watch for, including headache, sore throat, earache, nausea, nervousness, and even nasal congestion, which is why it’s not the first line of defend against allergies.

Mast cell inhibitors

Mast cell inhibitors like Cromolyn sodium are more therapeutic than they are treatments. In fact, these should be started at least one to two weeks prior to growing season for seasonal allergies and taken daily to reduce the symptoms of allergies.

These drugs block the production of histamine, which reduces a number of allergy symptoms related to the nose and eyes, such as running and itching. They aren’t as strong as a nasal corticosteroid but may be preferable to some people who don’t have severe allergies.

Allergy shots

In extreme cases, immunotherapy may be attempted with allergy shots. This isn’t possible with all allergies, but for some, the allergen can be introduced in minute amounts through a weekly injection, allowing the body to adjust to the presence of the allergen until it doesn’t react. This is something that can be done for some food or seasonal allergies especially.

It requires a doctor’s supervision, and it’s a therapy that can take years of treatment to complete.


In cases where allergies are extreme and can cause anaphylaxis, an auto-injector should be carried, such as an Epi-Pen. The device contains epinephrine, which can reset the body and save lives. These shouldn’t be used lightly, but if someone with an allergy stops breathing, loses consciousness, or has a flighty or interrupted heartbeat, it’s time to make use of this emergency device.

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