Avoiding exposure to allergens
The best way to keep 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 able to help manage:
- food allergies by being careful about what you eat
- animal allergies by keeping pets outside as much as possible and washing them regularly
- mould allergies by keeping your home dry and well-ventilated, and dealing with any damp and condensation
- hay fever by staying indoors and avoiding grassy areas when the pollen count is high
- dust mite allergies by using allergy-proof duvets and pillows, and fitting wooden floors rather than carpets
Medicines for mild allergies are available from pharmacies without a prescription.
But always ask a pharmacist or GP for advice before starting any new medicine, as they're not suitable for everyone.
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 have 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.
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 long 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:
- moisturising creams (emollients) to keep the skin moist and protect it from allergens
- calamine lotion to reduce itchiness
- steroids to reduce inflammation
Steroid medicines can help reduce inflammation caused by an allergic reaction.
They're available as:
- nasal sprays and eye drops for an inflamed nose and eyes
- creams for eczema and contact dermatitis
- inhalers for asthma
- tablets for hives (urticaria)
Sprays, drops and weak steroid creams are available without a prescription.
Stronger creams, inhalers and tablets are available on prescription from a GP.
Immunotherapy may be an option for a small 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 small 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 small risk of a severe reaction.
The drops or tablets can usually be taken at home.
The aim 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.
Treating severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis)
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 help.