Avoiding allergenic foods is the only way to prevent food allergy symptoms. However, it can be hard to avoid food allergens, especially when eating out or traveling. Some foods with ingredients that seem safe turn out to be cross-contaminated with allergens. No medication can treat the underlying immune reaction that causes food allergies, but some drugs are effective at improving symptoms of mild reactions or stopping life-threatening reactions.
Types of treatments for food allergy symptoms
People with severe allergies are recommended to carry epinephrine auto-injectors at all times for rescue in case of anaphylaxis. Auto-injectors allow the user to self-inject Epinephrine automatically into the skin or muscle. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter. Epinephrine is believed to work in cases of life-threatening anaphylaxis by reversing swelling in the airways, shortness of breath, and low blood pressure. Epinephrine auto-injectors are sold under brand names including Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, EpiPen, EpiPen Jr, and Symjepi as well as non-branded generic products.
An epinephrine auto-injector should be administered at the first sign of a serious allergic reaction. Severe allergic reactions may require multiple doses of epinephrine. Call 911 immediately after administering an epinephrine auto-injector. Follow-up at an emergency department is necessary because a second anaphylactic reaction can sometimes occur hours after the first.
Some people who carry an epinephrine auto-injector wear medical identification alert jewelry notifying strangers of their allergy. Some also attach a prominent tag to the bag in which they carry their auto-injector.
Mild symptoms of food allergy are sometimes improved by taking antihistamines such as Benadryl (Diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (Cetirizine), or Claritin (Loratadine). Antihistamines are believed to work by blocking the action of histamines (chemicals associated with allergic reactions) in the body.
Antihistamines make some people drowsy.
Also called steroids, corticosteroids may help improve some symptoms of food allergy such as asthma and skin rash. Corticosteroids are synthetic hormones that suppress immune system response. Steroids may be taken orally, applied topically to the skin, or inhaled for nasal or respiratory symptoms. Prednisone, Prednisolone, Flonase (Fluticasone), Hydrocortisone, and Advair (Fluticasone/Salmeterol) are examples of steroids sometimes used to treat symptoms of food allergies. Used long-term at higher doses, steroids can cause weight gain, muscle weakness, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.
Albuterol is a fast-acting rescue medication prescribed for asthma. Albuterol is inhaled and is sold under brand names including Ventolin and ProAir HFA. Albuterol can cause dizziness, nervousness, or headaches.
Sudafed (Pseudoephedrine), a decongestant available over the counter, may help some people who experience sinus congestion as a symptom of food allergies.
Some people with food allergies participate in clinical trials to potentially access new treatments for food allergies.
Is there a cure for food allergies?
Despite encouraging research toward finding a food allergy cure, there is at present no cure for food allergies.
What is oral immunotherapy?
Oral immunotherapy (OIT) is a newer treatment for food allergies that is still being tested for safety and effectiveness in clinical trials. OIT involves regularly eating small amounts of the allergenic food under medical supervision and increasing the amount until the body learns to tolerate it. So far, OIT has proven effective in 70 to 80 percent of people – after they complete the program, they are able to safely eat the allergenic food. OIT takes nine to 12 months to become effective. A similar technique, sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), involves placing a solution into which allergenic foods are dissolved under the tongue instead of eating the food.
Can I get assistance paying for medications to treat food allergy symptoms?
If you are facing high costs for medications related to food allergies, there are several steps you can take to reduce costs. There are websites such as GoodRx that allow you to check prices for your medications at pharmacies in your area; prices for the same drug can vary significantly by pharmacy or location. Many pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs that can help connect you with resources. Some people with low income and no insurance may qualify for free medications. Some pharmaceutical companies offer assistance programs. Drug discount cards can also help cut costs. You can find more information on copay assistance programs here and here.