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Coping with Allergies
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Coping with Allergies

Living Fully Despite Severe Allergies

Although some allergic reactions run the gamut from moderately annoying to fatal, most are quite manageable. Currently there are three main techniques to manage allergies:

  • Avoidance
  • Shots
  • Medication

Each technique has its pros and cons. This short article briefly looks at some of the more effective allergy “cures,” benefits and drawbacks.

Avoidance: Treat Allergens Like The Plague

During an allergic reaction, your body begins to attack a substance that is usually harmless, such as dust. There are no cures for allergies. Avoidance is the easiest, most cut-and-dry technique. If you’re allergic to cat dander, avoid cats. If nuts are your trigger, don’t consume nuts, food containing nuts or food processed on equipment that touches nuts. Easier said than done.

Avoidance is difficult when allergens are too small to avoid or, like pollen, they are ubiquitous. Understandably, avoidance is a relatively effective strategy that you can adhere to in theory at all times and in practice when allergens are easy to identify/steer clear of.

A Shot of Relief

Allergy shots fall under the category of “immunotherapy.” An allergy shot contains an infinitesimal amount of allergens. The prevailing theory asserts that progressive exposure to allergens strengthens your immune system response, until the allergen no longer affects you or has inconsequential side effects.

An allergy shot regimen potentially spans three to five years, giving your immune system sufficient time to build up resistance. An allergy shot is a viable therapy if

  • Allergy meds fail to alleviate your symptoms
  • Allergy meds interact negatively with other meds you’re on
  • Or you want to minimize the amount of meds you’re taking in general

Over time, an allergy shot lessens the symptoms of insect stings, indoor allergens and seasonal allergies. It also has some side effects, including anaphylaxis and other moderate allergic reactions, like

  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Hives
  • And swelling

Receiving an allergy shot on a consistent basis tends to reduce the likelihood of negative reactions.

Allergy Meds: To Dose or Not to Dose

Allergy medications are either:

  • Antihistamines
  • Corticosteroids
  • Decongestants
  • And mast cell stabilizers

They may be prescribed or over the counter. Examples of prescription allergy meds include hydroxyzine (Vistaril) and fluticason proprionate (Flonase). Dyphenhydramine (Benadryl) is one of the more popular over-the-counter allergy meds.

Antihistamines work by blocking histamines. Histamines are compounds your body releases during allergic reactions. Corticosteroids, such as nasal sprays and creams, work to reduce inflammation. Decongestants cause blood vessels in the sinuses and chest to narrow and contract, which reduces blood flow to these areas, the production of mucous and the feeling of congestion.

Similar to antihistamines, mast cell stabilizers prevent the release of histamines by blocking mast cell degranulation. Mast cells are a type of white blood cell (part of the immune system). Degranulation refers to the release of antimicrobial molecules. Your doctor or allergist can determine the best prescription allergy meds for your condition, how often to take it and at what dosage.

Living fully despite severe allergies is quite doable. Avoidance, shots and meds are proven techniques for managing allergies, although each has its pros and cons. You can escape allergy symptoms on your own with over-the-counter remedies, or you can speak to your doctor or allergist to devise a more permanent strategy.

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