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6 Medication Options for Food Allergies: Emergency, Over the Counter, and More

Medically reviewed by Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD
Written by Joan Grossman and Kelly Crumrin
Updated on June 21, 2024

Avoiding allergenic foods is the only way to prevent food allergy symptoms. However, that can be hard to do, especially when eating out or traveling. Sometimes foods with ingredients that seem safe turn out to be cross-contaminated with allergens. Fortunately, some medications can improve the symptoms of allergic reactions or stop life-threatening allergic reactions.

Despite encouraging food allergy research, there’s no cure for food allergies. It’s essential that you maintain your treatment plan and avoid triggers if you or your child has food allergies. It’s also important to know that all medications have a risk of side effects, which you should discuss with your doctor whenever trying a new food allergy treatment.

Below, we discuss some medication treatment options for managing food allergy symptoms. You can talk with your doctor about which ones might be appropriate for you or your child.

1. Epinephrine Auto-Injectors

If you have severe allergies, your doctor is likely to recommend carrying epinephrine auto-injectors at all times for emergency treatment in case of accidental exposure to food allergens. Auto-injectors allow the user to easily and quickly self-inject epinephrine into muscle. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is a hormone and neurotransmitter that rapidly opens the airways, stops hives and swelling, increases blood pressure, and decreases abdominal cramping.

Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for a severe reaction from allergies that cause difficulty breathing. Epinephrine auto-injectors are sold under brand names such as Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, EpiPen, EpiPen Jr, and Symjepi, as well as generic products.


An epinephrine auto-injector should be administered at the first sign of a serious allergic reaction.

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An epinephrine auto-injector should be administered at the first sign of a serious allergic reaction. Severe allergic reactions may require multiple doses. People at risk of anaphylaxis should carry two epinephrine injectors at all times. Call 911 immediately after administering an epinephrine auto-injector. Follow-up at an emergency room 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.

Epinephrine can make people feel jittery after use. More serious, but rare, side effects include heart problems and infection at the injection site.

2. Over-the-Counter Antihistamines

Mild symptoms of food allergy are sometimes improved by taking over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and loratadine (Claritin). Antihistamines are believed to work by blocking the action of histamines (chemicals associated with allergic reactions) in the body. Antihistamines will not prevent anaphylaxis and are not recommended as a first treatment for people with severe allergies.

Certain types of antihistamines make some people drowsy. Talk to your health care provider to find out if you might benefit from using an OTC antihistamine and, if so, what product might be best for you.

3. Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids — often just called steroids — may help improve some symptoms of food allergy, such as asthma and rash. Corticosteroids can take hours to start having an effect. They’re not recommended as a first treatment for people with severe allergies.

Corticosteroids are synthetic hormones that suppress the immune system response that causes an allergic reaction. Steroids may be taken orally, applied topically to the skin, or inhaled for nasal or respiratory symptoms. Prednisone, prednisolone, hydrocortisone, fluticasone (Flonase), and fluticasone/salmeterol (Advair) are examples of steroids sometimes given to treat symptoms of food allergies.

Used long term at higher doses, steroids can cause many side effects, including weight gain, muscle weakness, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.

4. Albuterol

Albuterol (Ventolin HFA, ProAir HFA) is a fast-acting rescue medication prescribed for asthma. This inhaled medication can cause dizziness, nervousness, headaches, and a fast heartbeat. Albuterol can treat cough and shortness of breath associated with an allergic reaction but won’t prevent anaphylaxis.

Albuterol is not recommended as a first treatment for people with severe allergies.

5. Omalizumab

Omalizumab (Xolair) is a medication that’s injected subcutaneously (under the skin) every two to four weeks and is taken for immunoglobulin E (IgE)-mediated food allergies. This type of allergy is caused by abnormal reactions of an IgE antibody. Common igE-mediated allergies are caused by foods such as milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and fish, including shellfish, and can cause anaphylaxis.

Omalizumab works by targeting the IgE antibody. The medication can cause irritation at the injection site and fever. Anaphylaxis is a rare but serious side effect and requires immediate treatment.

Common IgE-mediated allergies are caused by foods such as milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and fish, including shellfish, and can cause anaphylaxis.

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Learn more about specific mediation options in this list of treatments for food allergies.

6. Emerging Treatments

Immunology research is leading to emerging therapies for the treatment of food allergies, which you can discuss in more detail with your allergist or doctor.

Immunotherapy

Oral immunotherapy is a new type of treatment that works by giving someone with food allergies very small amounts of a substance they’re allergic to, with the aim of training the immune system to tolerate the allergen without reacting. Oral immunotherapy doesn’t cure a food allergy, but it may decrease the severity and frequency of allergic reactions to a particular substance. People with severe allergies are still advised to carry epinephrine in case of a serious allergic reaction.

Oral immunotherapy is generally considered an investigational — or experimental — treatment. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved one oral immunotherapy drug, arachis hypogaea (Palforzia), for pediatric treatment of children and adolescents with a confirmed peanut allergy. This drug contains small amounts of peanut protein and may help some people increase their tolerance to peanuts.

Another type of experimental allergen immunotherapy is known as epicutaneous immunotherapy, in which a skin patch delivers very small amounts of an allergen to build up tolerance. There are currently no FDA-approved epicutaneous treatments.

Clinical Trials

Some people with food allergies participate in clinical trials to potentially access new treatments for food allergies. Clinical trials are studies with volunteer participants to test new drugs before they’re publicly released.

Find Your Team

MyFoodAllergyTeam is the social network for people with food allergies and their loved ones. On MyFoodAllergyTeam, more than 40,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with food allergies.

Have you reviewed your treatment plan with your doctor? Have you discussed any of the new treatments for food allergies? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Updated on June 21, 2024

    A MyFoodAllergyTeam Subscriber

    What if you’re allergic to epinephrine?

    posted June 13
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    I Have A Bad Soy Allergies That Even In Hospital It Happen After Drinking Apple Juice. After Reading Label It Wasn't On There.
    March 25, 2024 by A MyFoodAllergyTeam Member 1 answer
    Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Pacific University School of Pharmacy in Portland, Oregon, and went on to complete a one-year postgraduate residency at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. Learn more about her here.
    Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.
    Kelly Crumrin is a senior editor at MyHealthTeam and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

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