One in five people in the United States have at least one type of allergy, including hay fever, food, drug, and latex allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Despite this high prevalence, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about allergies floating around – including what, exactly, an allergy is. We've dug into the scientific literature and spoke with allergy experts Drs. Jeffrey Stokes and Marc Riedl to bring you the truth about allergies, and some general guidelines to follow if you've been diagnosed with them (or suspect you may have them).
Know your treatment options.
There are two broad categories of allergy medications available: antihistamines and steroids. Antihistamines block histamines from attaching to cell receptors, providing quick relief from various cold-like allergy symptoms, including sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. But they don't address the underlying inflammation behind the symptoms. Steroids, on the other hand, reduce the inflammation and swelling from all types of allergic reactions, and, unlike antihistamines, can help with stuffy noses. The steroids work best as a preventative measure or to treat chronic allergies because they take a few hours to start working, and don't reach full effect for at least a few days.
There are various alternative, holistic medications available, but our experts suggest sticking to the traditional medications. Most alternative treatments haven't undergone rigorous tests to prove their efficacy, and certain medications, such as bee pollen, can even cause life-threatening allergic reactions.
If you want to reduce the severity of your allergic reactions, you can also try allergen immunotherapy, which involves periodic injections of allergens to train your immune system to better tolerate the harmless substances. The treatment is effective for respiratory-type allergens, including pollen, dust mites, and pet dander, and can completely rid you of insect venom allergies (for as long as you continue the treatment), says Stokes. But allergen immunotherapy is not yet available for food allergens, which frequently produce life-threatening allergic reactions.
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