You Have Allergies: Now What?

Looking for relief from persistent allergy symptoms for you and your children? Luckily, there are plenty of treatment options out there — and it’s never too late to find the right ones for you and your family.

“The key is that we have an allergy treatment option for everybody. There isn’t just one to consider, there are choices,” says Dr. Carolyn Word, a board-certified allergist at Charleston Allergy & Asthma. Here’s everything you need to know about the top treatment options.


Over-the-Counter Antihistamines and Nasal Sprays

Many people rely on antihistamines, which block the effect of histamines. Histamines are substances your body releases when you have an allergic reaction. Common brands include Benadryl and Claritin. Most come in pill or liquid form and generally provide 12 to 24 hours of coverage. They're effective at treating symptoms quickly, Dr. Word says.

Other people find relief from nasal sprays (like Flonase or Rhinocort), which are anti-inflammatory medications that act locally on the nose and suppress allergic symptoms. Both antihistamines and nasal sprays are available over-the-counter.

“Those are the mainstays of over-the-counter allergy therapy,” Dr. Word says. “They’re a good place to start if you’ve never had allergy symptoms before.” These should only be used as short-term solutions, and can quit working for you when you need them most.


Skin Testing: Find Out Exactly What You’re Allergic To

“For a more targeted approach, we recommend seeing a board-certified allergist and having allergy testing done,” says Dr. Word. “It’s very sensitive, so we can give patients a list of their specific allergies the same day.”

From there, you can receive a customized plan to treat the specific allergens affecting you. “The over-the-counter allergy medicines are great, and we recommend them, but they’re one-size-fits-all,” Dr. Word says.

Allergy testing is available for all ages, so it’s helpful for treating children, whose allergies could be affecting their performance in school. “If kids are on medications they don’t need, or not being treated correctly, that can cause poor academic performance,” Dr. Word says.


Immunotherapy: The Lasting, Long-Term Solution

Once you know exactly what you’re allergic to and are ready for long-term relief (instead of just suppressing your symptoms), it might be time to consider immunotherapy.

“It [immunotherapy] actually gets to the root of the cause and works on the immune system itself to change the body’s response to allergen exposure,” Dr. Word says.

The backbone of immunotherapy is allergy shots, a series of injections that increase your tolerance toward what you are allergic to. “Multiple studies support that immunotherapy is much more cost effective than treating yourself long-term with allergy medications” Dr. Word says. “It’s time consuming at the beginning, but the benefits last for decades.”

The second, newer type of immunotherapy is allergy tablets, which have been introduced in the past five years, and are currently available for patients allergic to grass, ragweed, and dust mites. Unlike allergy shots, they can be taken at home.

So while medications can be a great way to treat your itchy eyes and runny nose, they essentially work as a bandage covering up your symptoms. Immunotherapy effects the cause of the underlying disease. “Our goal is to get patients feeling better, and immunotherapy is the best option,” Dr. Word says. “We’re essentially curing allergies; it’s the closest thing we have to a cure.”

Need guidance in treating your allergies? Reach out to Charleston Allergy & Asthma for an appointment. Their board-certified doctors have been providing allergy and asthma care in the Lowcountry for over 30 years. They have locations in Mount Pleasant, Summerville, and West Ashley. For more information, call (843) 881-2030 or visit them online.

What is Immunotherapy?