Conventional treatment of allergies begins with conventional testing to determine the type of allergen to which the patient reacts, followed by avoidance of the allergen and symptom relief medications if warranted. Finally, some allergies respond to immunotherapy with desensitization. While the allergy sufferer may be thankful for the relief provided by antihistamines, inhalers and topical creams for rash, none of these treatments provides a cure for the allergy or an expectation of future amelioration of the symptoms. Alternative medicine practitioners believe that the preferred treatment is to attack the problem at the source, by employing various methods that they claim not only will alleviate symptoms, but also eliminate the allergy response in the future. This section discusses each type of medication or method and identifies it as either conventional or alternative.
Epinephrine is the treatment of choice in an emergency situation involving anaphylactic shock or other severe allergic reaction. Otherwise known as adrenaline, epinephrine is a hormone whose function in the body is as a neurotransmitter. It regulates heart rate, blood vessel and air passage diameter and metabolic shifts, and is a crucial component in the ‘fight-or-flight’ survival response. Because of its action in dilating air passages and bronchial tissue, patients at risk for anaphylaxis from commonly encountered allergens may be prescribed an auto-injector, sometimes known by one of its trade names, Epi-pen, for emergency use. Adverse reactions to epinephrine are heart palpitations, tachycardia, arrhythmia, anxiety, panic attack, headache, tremor, hypertension, and acute pulmonary edema. The more minor or harmless though uncomfortable reactions are certainly preferable to loss of airway, however, and dissipate rapidly as the immediate effect of the epinephrine wears off.
Antihistamines and Decongestants
Since the origin of uncomfortable allergy symptoms are chemicals called histamines that are produced within the body as an immunological response, medicines that counteract these chemicals are called antihistamines. The numerous varieties are available in tablet, capsule, inhalant, liquid, nasal spray and eye drop form, some by prescription and some over the counter (OTC). All of them work by binding to the same receptors that histamine would bind to, blocking the effect of the histamine, and therefore are more effective when taken before exposure to the allergen. Therefore, some doctors recommend combining the antihistamine with a decongestant, which shrinks swollen tissues and acts on some symptoms for which antihistamines are ineffective. Combination formulas may also prevent mast cells from releasing other chemicals associated with allergy.
Antihistamines can cause many side effects, such as dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, restlessness or moodiness (in some children), trouble urinating or not being able to urinate, blurred vision or confusion. Older first-generation antihistamines such as those that go by the brand names Benadryl, Chlor-Trimetron and Tavist tend to cause more side effects than the newer medications. You should always read labels on medications if you are taking other medications, whether OTC or prescribed, as some medicines can interact and either cause a reaction in combination or render one another ineffective. Similarly, decongestants can also cause many of the same side effects and can worsen heart problems.
Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, can prevent and treat nasal stuffiness, itchy, runny nose or sneezing due to pollen and other environmental allergies. They can also decrease inflammation and swelling from other types of allergic reactions. Systemic steroids are available in several modes of delivery, but the main issue is that they must be taken regularly, even daily, even when you are not exhibiting any allergy symptoms. In addition, it can take up to two weeks before the full effect of the medication develops.
Steroids can be given in a short course of treatment for some problems with little ill effect, chiefly temporary weight gain, fluid retention and elevated blood pressure. When given orally, systemically and/or for long periods, steroids can produce a number of more serious side effects such as growth suppression, diabetes, and cataracts of the eyes, bone-thinning (osteoporosis) or muscle weakness. Long-term inhalation of steroids for bronchial asthma symptoms can include cough, hoarseness or fungal infection of the mouth