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Treatment for Allergy

Allergy Treatment: What You Need to Know

Young boy with a dandelion
  • Allergies can be treated through avoidance, medication and immunotherapy.

  • Immunotherapy treatment for allergies can be given as a shot or drops.

  • Patients should talk to their pediatrician before beginning their child on an allergy treatment.

How are allergies treated?

The most effective ways to treat allergies are avoidance, allergy immunotherapy and medicine. Your health care provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:

  • Your age

  • Your overall health and medical history

  • How well you can handle specific medicines, procedures or therapies

  • Your opinion or preference

Allergen Avoidance

Avoidance is staying away from the substance (allergen) that causes an allergic reaction. To decrease symptoms caused by airborne allergens, use a nasal spray or wash to rinse allergens from your nose. Ask your health care provider about the best device or method to use to rinse out your nose.

Allergy Prevention

To lessen the effects of allergic rhinitis during pollen season, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests the following:

  • Stay indoors when the pollen count is high and on windy days.

  • Dust proof your home, particularly the bedroom:

  • Get rid of wall-to-wall carpet, Venetian blinds, down-filled blankets or pillows and closets filled with unused clothes when possible.

  • Wash bedding, curtains and clothing often and in hot water to eliminate dust mites.

  • Keep bedding in dust covers when possible.

  • Use air conditioning instead of opening windows.

  • Consider putting a dehumidifier in damp areas of the home, and remember to clean it often.

  • Wear a face mask when working in the yard.

Your doctor will have suggestions for other ways to avoid allergens.

More Information about Sinusitis from Johns Hopkins Medicine

Dan in his home

Dan’s Story: Sinus Surgery and Sublingual Therapy

Desperate after numerous unsuccessful sinus surgeries to treat an aggressive nasal infection, Virginia-resident Dan found the Johns Hopkins Sinus Center. After sinus surgery by Dr. Andrew Lane and sublingual immunotherapy allergy treatment by Dr. Sandra Lin, Dan is now infection free and no longer taking decongestants.

Read more.

What is allergy immunotherapy (allergy shots and drops)?

Allergy immunotherapy is a type of treatment for people with allergic rhinitis (hay fever), conjunctivitis (eye allergy), allergic asthma or with a stinging insect allergy. It is also called desensitization, hyposensitization or allergy shots. It uses an individualized mixture of the various pollens, mold spores, animal dander and dust mites that you are allergic to. This mixture is called an allergy extract. It acts similar to a vaccine. Increasing doses of the allergy extract boost your natural immune system, and it learns to fight off the allergens. This extract contains no medicine.

How are allergy shots given?

Allergy shots are given by injection, usually into the fatty tissue in the back of your arm. You may get injections weekly or twice a week until a maximum dose is tolerated. This is called the maintenance dose. It can take about one year to reach the maintenance dose. At this point, the frequency of injections may be go down to every other week and finally to once a month. Allergy immunotherapy injections may be needed up to five years or longer. Your doctor will set the schedule and the length of time needed.

How are allergy drops given?

Allergy drops (also called sublingual immunotherapy) are given under the tongue daily and can help patients desensitize their immune system to an allergen. Treatment time is consistent with allergy shots, five years or more. Your doctor will determine the dosage and length of time needed. 

Symptom Improvement and Allergy Immunotherapy

About 80 percent of people improve with allergy immunotherapy. But it usually takes from six to 12 months before you notice symptom relief. 

Immunotherapy is only part of the treatment plan for people with allergies. Since it takes time for allergy immunotherapy to become effective, you will need to continue your allergy medicines as prescribed by your doctor. It is also important to continue keeping allergens (such as dust mites) out of your environment.

More Information About Environmental Allergy Treatment from Johns Hopkins Medicine

Woman sneezing

Could allergy drops be the key to allergy relief?

Rather than suffer through allergy season, many people are choosing to fight back using immunotherapy, a treatment that works to boost your immune system and change the way your body responds to allergens. This treatment involves gradually introducing small amounts of what you’re allergic to.

Learn more.

Are there side effects to allergy immunotherapy?

Side effects to allergy immunotherapy can range from mild to (rarely) severe reactions. Symptoms may include nasal congestion, sneezing, hives, swelling, wheezing and low blood pressure. Such reactions can be serious and life threatening. However, deaths related to allergy immunotherapy are rare. If a systemic reaction occurs, you may keep taking shots or drops but at a lower dosage.

Side effects from shots may include redness and swelling at the injection site. If this condition occurs repeatedly, then the extract strength or schedule is changed.

If you have any questions about immunotherapy, always see your health care provider or allergist. 

Medicines Used to Treat Allergies

The use of medicines for asthma or respiratory symptoms from allergies is individualized based on your symptoms. These are the most commonly used medicines:

  • Antihistamines are used to relieve or prevent the symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and other allergies. Antihistamines prevent the effects of histamine, a substance produced by the body during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines come in tablet, capsule, liquid or injection form, as well as nasal spray, drops under the tongue or eye drops. They are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. Contact your health care provider for advice before taking this medicine.

  • Decongestants help ease swelling and congestion in the nose. They come as pills and nasal sprays or drops. Don't use nasal sprays for more than three days, or they can worsen your symptoms. The American Academy of Family Physicians does not recommend decongestants for children aged 4 years and younger.

  • Corticosteroids:

    • Nasal corticosteroids reduce swelling in the nose. It comes as a spray.

    • Corticosteroid creams or ointments help stop itching and rashes from spreading on the body.

    • Oral (by mouth) corticosteroids decrease swelling and help stop serious allergic reactions.

  • Mast cell stabilizers help stop the release of histamines from the body. Histamines cause itching, swelling and mucus production.

  • Cromolyn is a medicine used to stop nasal symptoms caused by allergies. It is an anti-inflammatory (meaning it decreases swelling).

  • Epinephrine is a self-injectable medicine is given within minutes of a serious allergic reaction. Epinephrine is the most effective treatment to give during an anaphylactic reaction. Call 911 immediately.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against some over-the-counter medicines for children. Talk to your child's doctor before giving any over-the counter medicine to your child. Always contact your child's doctor before starting or stopping any allergy or asthma medicines.

For information about food allergies please visit the following pages:

More Information About Environmental Allergies in the Health Library

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