What are some over the counter allergy medications
Some people with severe allergies may experience life-threatening reactions, known as anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock.
If you’re at risk of this, you’ll be given special injectors containing a medicine called adrenaline to use in an emergency.
If you develop symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as difficulty breathing, you should inject yourself in the outer thigh before seeking emergency medical assist.
Find out more about treating anaphylaxis
What Causes Allergies?
When you own allergies, your immune system mistakes normally harmless substances for dangerous invaders and produces antibodies to fight them.
These antibodies release chemicals, such as histamine, that cause allergy symptoms.
The most common allergens are:
- Insect stings
- Food, especially cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, seafood, soy, tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews) and wheat
- Animal fur or hair (such as that from cats, dogs, horses, or rabbits)
- Dust mites
An allergen for one person may not cause any problems in another person.
There is a link between allergy and asthma.
What are the Symptoms of Allergies?
Reactions to the same allergen vary among individuals and depend on how the allergen entered the body (for example, being bitten by a mosquito causes a localized reaction on the skin whereas exposure to pollen may cause a tickly throat and itchy eyes).
Symptoms may include:
- Runny, stuffy nose
- A skin rash or hives, generally accompanied by body-wide itching
- Areas of swelling and redness where a person has been stung or bitten (for insect bites/stings)
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, face, or throat
- Cough, chest tightness, wheezing or shortness of breath
- Itching of the nose, eyes or roof of the mouth
- Tingling of the mouth
- Watery, red or swollen eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting (food allergies)
Some types of allergies can trigger a severe reaction known as anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- Skin rash
- Severe shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness
- A rapid, feeble pulse
- A drop in blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting.
Treating specific allergic conditions
Use the links under to discover information about how specific allergies and related conditions are treated:
Sheet final reviewed: 22 November 2018
Next review due: 22 November 2021
Allergies are an overreaction by your immune system to a substance or food that is not considered harmful to most other people.
Substances that cause allergies are called allergens or “triggers”.
Immunotherapy may be an option for a little number of people with certain severe and persistent allergies who are unable to control their symptoms using the measures above.
The treatment involves being given occasional little doses of the allergen, either as an injection, or as drops or tablets under the tongue, over the course of several years.
The injection can only be performed in a specialist clinic under the supervision of a doctor, as there’s a little risk of a severe reaction.
The drops or tablets can generally be taken at home.
The purpose of treatment is to help your body get used to the allergen so it does not react to it so severely.
This will not necessarily cure your allergy, but it’ll make it milder and mean you can take less medicine.
Medicines for mild allergies are available from pharmacies without a prescription.
But always enquire a pharmacist or GP for advice before starting any new medicine, as they’re not suitable for everyone.
Decongestants can be used as a short-term treatment for a blocked nose caused by an allergic reaction.
They can be taken as tablets, capsules, nasal sprays or liquids.
Do not use them for more than a week at a time, as using them for endless periods can make your symptoms worse.
Lotions and creams
Red and itchy skin caused by an allergic reaction can sometimes be treated with over-the-counter creams and lotions, such as:
- calamine lotion to reduce itchiness
- moisturising creams (emollients) to hold the skin moist and protect it from allergens
- steroids to reduce inflammation
Antihistamines are the main medicines for allergies.
They can be used:
- as and when you notice the symptoms of an allergic reaction
- to prevent allergic reactions – for example, you may take them in the morning if you own hay fever and you know the pollen count is high that day
Antihistamines can be taken as tablets, capsules, creams, liquids, eye drops or nasal sprays, depending on which part of your body is affected by your allergy.
Steroid medicines can assist reduce inflammation caused by an allergic reaction.
They’re available as:
Sprays, drops and feeble steroid creams are available without a prescription.
Stronger creams, inhalers and tablets are available on prescription from a GP.
Avoiding exposure to allergens
The best way to hold your symptoms under control is often to avoid the things you’re allergic to, although this is not always practical.
For example, you may be capable to help manage:
- mould allergies by keeping your home dry and well-ventilated, and dealing with any damp and condensation
- animal allergies by keeping pets exterior as much as possible and washing them regularly
- hay fever by staying indoors and avoiding grassy areas when the pollen count is high
- food allergies by being careful about what you eat
- dust mite allergies by using allergy-proof duvets and pillows, and fitting wooden floors rather than carpets