Allergy and Asthma Treatments
The treatment of allergies and asthma often requires a combination of several approaches and therapies. For the most part, the goals of treatment are to minimize the frequency and severity of reactions, maintain good health, and prevent complications. Current medical approaches to achieve these goals include allergen avoidance, medication to control or relieve symptoms, and allergy shots. Other aids to managing symptoms include treatment devices, stress reduction and relaxation techniques. The specific treatment plan developed for you or your child will depend on the type and severity of the condition, as well as lifestyle and environmental factors.
Avoidance of allergy triggers is crucial, but avoidance tactics vary. If food allergy is present, diet modifications are warranted. Individuals who are allergic to dust need to maintain a low allergen home environment. People with asthma will need to avoid airborne triggers.
Because some allergens are not completely avoidable, many people use medications to help manage allergy symptoms or control asthma.There are a variety of medications, each with a specific role in the management of allergies and asthma. These drugs, when used as a component of a healthy lifestyle, can help to reduce symptoms.
Allergy and Asthma Management Goals
- Prevent symptoms
- Reduce intensity and frequency of symptoms
- Maintain normal lung function
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Maintain optimal nutrition
- Maintain and enjoy a normal lifestyle
- Allow a physically active lifestyle
- Prevent recurrent asthma attacks
- Prevent the need for emergency treatment
- Reduce lost time at school and work
Antihistamines, decongestants, topical nasal steroids, and cromolyn sodium are among the drugs used for short-term relieve of some common allergy symptoms. To manage allergy symptoms over the long haul, a series of allergy shots, or immunotherapy, may be effective. With immunotherapy, the allergy sufferer receives a series of shots with increasing doses of the offending allergen. When effective, the sensitivity to the allergen will gradually diminish until symptoms disappear.
There is no available immunotherapy for food allergies. However, injections are available for grass, weed and tree pollens, dust mites, cat and dog dander, and insect stings. Although allergy injections do not directly treat food allergies, they can help reduce allergy symptoms. Allergy symptoms are commonly the cumulative effect of multiple allergy exposures. By decreasing the symptoms caused by environmental triggers, you may also be able to lessen overall allergic symptoms.
The medication regimen used to treat asthma is more detailed. People with asthma may need to use two groups of drugs: controller medications and rescue medications. Controller medications include inhaled corticosteroids, oral steroids, long-acting bronchodilators and leukotriene modifiers. Controller medications are sometimes used on a daily basis to maintain lung health and prevent asthma attacks. They work to reduce lung tissue inflammation and keep airways open.
Rescue medications provide prompt, short-term relief of acute asthma symptoms. They include short-acting beta-2 antagonists, or bronchodilators, such as albuterol. To optimize their effectiveness, these drugs should be reserved only for times when asthma symptoms are severe.
Thorough education about the proper use of asthma medication is important for parents, older children and teens, and adults who use these drugs. A pharmacist, asthma educator or physician can provide this very important training, as well as answer questions and address concerns.
Treatment Devices and Equipment
Several treatment devices designed to ease breathing and administer inhaled medications are available for people with asthma. Metered dose inhalers (MDI's) and nebulizers are often used to better distribute inhaled medication through the airways. Metered dose inhalers can rapidly propel a precise dose of inhaled medication throughout the lungs. Most children over the age of five are capable of using a MDI, provided they have adult supervision. Attaching a spacer device, which eliminates the need to synchronize inhalation with the release of medication, is very helpful for children under the age of five.
For very young children or those who have difficulty using a MDI, a nebulizer can be used to deliver liquid medication. The nebulizer turns liquid medication into a fine spray that can be inhaled and spread throughout the lungs. However, nebulizers are large machines and deliver a less precise dose of medication.
Closely monitoring asthma symptoms is an important step in controlling asthma. One tool that is useful in asthma management is a peak flow meter. This device is used to monitor airflow and lung function. This information serves to guide the use and effectiveness of medications and treatment. Persons who monitor their airflow daily and adjust their medications appropriately have better control of asthma symptoms and tend to have fewer hospitalizations.