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Can Steroids Help With Allergies? (Backed by Science)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

Many of my fitness clients cringe when they hear “steroids” because the first image that pops into their head is an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like physique.

The truth is that different steroids have valid uses, including corticosteroids for treating allergic rhinitis (hay fever). When used properly, they are safe treatment options.

I sought professional medical advice, talked at length with our wellness professionals, and read loads of peer-reviewed studies to write up this quick read about using steroids to treat seasonal allergies.

Quick Summary

  • Oral, nasal, or injection of steroids can effectively treat seasonal allergies, commonly known as hay fever.
  • Allergens or foreign substances can trigger an immune response causing an allergic reaction which a corticosteroid can effectively treat by reducing inflammation.
  • A corticosteroid is a synthetic version of cortisol, a hormone made in the adrenal glands that reduces inflammation in the body.

Can Steroids Alleviate Allergies?

Close up image of steroids

Yes, steroids can alleviate allergies by reducing inflammation and tamping down the immune system’s overreaction to the allergen [1].

While anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) treat diseases that damage muscle tissue and hormone issues, corticosteroids treat allergy symptoms and countless other chronic health problems.

Significant problems can arise when bodybuilders often misuse them when looking to make massive gains fast,

Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands and helps lessen inflammation in the body, among other things.

Corticosteroids are synthetic versions of the same. Corticosteroids treat the swelling and inflammation caused by allergens like:

  • Pollen from trees, grass, and weeds (hay fever) 
  • Dust mites
  • Dog and cat dander
  • Mold
  • Wood dust 
  • Latex

The immune system reacts to the allergen and causes certain symptoms in the body [2].

Here are some common ones:

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy nose
  • Stuffy or runny nose 
  • Watery eyes
  • Red and itchy eyes
  • Coughing
  • Itchy feeling on the roof of the mouth

Let’s take a closer look at the different methods of steroid treatment for allergies.

Steroids are available as eye drops, ointments, injections, oral tablets, inhalers, and nasal sprays.

Let’s look closer at shots, nasal sprays, and tablets.

Steroid Shots

Testing a steroid shot in bicep

Steroid shots can effectively treat seasonal allergies as they slowly release the medication over weeks, providing long-term relief.

Because of the slow release, you may need only one shot per season to prevent allergy symptoms.

The risk of steroid shots is that once injected into the body, there is no way to remove the medication if you have an allergic reaction or adverse side effects.

It is important to note that steroid shots differ from allergy shots. Allergy shots are a type of immunotherapy and do not contain steroids [3].

“Cortisol is a necessary hormone with important functions in your body, which include increasing blood sugar, reducing inflammation, suppressing the immune system, and aiding in nutrient metabolism.”

- Grant Tinsley, Ph.D., CSCS,*D, CISSN

Nasal Corticosteroids

Intranasal steroids, when used in conjunction with systemic corticosteroids, are highly effective as a treatment for allergic rhinitis and for people who are also asthmatic [4].

Nasal corticosteroids directly target the inflammation of the nasal passages, reducing inflammation and relieving congestion.

One of the most common adverse effects of nasal steroid use is irritation of the throat [5].

Nasal steroids are safe, effective, and non-addictive and may take up to three weeks to feel the full effect [6].

Oral Corticosteroids

An oral Corticosteroids inside a woman's mouth

Unlike nasal steroids, oral steroids may reduce inflammation throughout the entire body, and the risk of a broader range of adverse effects comes with that. Still, they are not limited to treating only seasonal allergies.

They effectively treat various allergic reactions, including urticaria (hives), allergic atopic dermatitis, and eczema [7].

Prednisone is a commonly prescribed oral steroid.

A medical professional may combine oral steroids with other therapies like allergy shots or nasal irrigation for patients with a moderate to severe disease who have not responded to other treatments.

Other Uses

Steroid injections can target smaller areas of the body to treat chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, bursitis, gout, osteoarthritis, and tendonitis.

Oral steroids work to treat health conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, lupus, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis.

Side Effects

Nose bleeding side view

It is always best to see your doctor for advice, diagnosis, or treatment of seasonal allergy symptoms; know that any steroid use has potentially serious side effects.

Nasal Steroids

Besides throat irritation mentioned earlier, nasal steroid use can cause other side effects [8].

These include:

  • Nose bleed
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Face swelling
  • Nose sores
  • Dizziness
  • Eye pain
  • Vision problems
  • Headaches

Oral Steroids

With oral steroid use, there is an increased risk of serious side effects that comes with higher doses and long-term use [9].

Some common ones are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Water retention
  • Vision problems
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Appetite changes
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Joint pain
  • Immune system suppression

Taking corticosteroids, like prednisone, by oral route in high doses for long periods can cause Cushing syndrome [10].

Steroid Injection

A steroid shot can bring the following side effects, which depend on dosing and where the injection is given [11].

  • Pain and discomfort
  • Thinning skin
  • Temporary bruising 
  • Flushing of the face
  • Infection causing redness, swelling, and pain (seek professional medical advice as soon as possible)
  • Loss of fat at the injection site
  • Paler skin  at the injection site
  • Increased blood sugar levels (if you have diabetes)
  • Increased blood pressure (if you have high blood pressure)

FAQs

Are Antihistamines Better Than Steroids?

Studies show steroids are better than antihistamines for allergies when used on an “as needed” basis for individuals with mild disease.

A few studies, including one headed by Robert Naclerio, MD, Chief of Otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) at the University of Chicago, found that nasal steroids are more effective than antihistamines as the first-line treatment against allergies when used “as needed” [12].

How Long Do Steroids Take To Work for Allergies?

To treat allergies, it may take steroids up to two weeks to work.

It is essential to use steroids consistently even when symptoms are not present to get the medication's full benefit.

So, Do Steroids Help With Allergies?

Suffering from allergic rhinitis can keep you out of the gym and get in the way of reaching your fitness goals.

Take the first step and see your doctor for advice, diagnosis, or treatment of your severe allergies.

Once your allergy symptoms are under control, you’ll be able to get back to working out. You can make up for the lost time by adding the best steroids for bulking to your fitness plan which are all-natural and safe.

My clients and I have successfully used them for significant muscle gains and improved body composition without the nasty side effects.


References:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/steroid-shot-for-allergies
  2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergic-rhinitis/
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/allergy-shots/about/pac-20392876
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8436259/
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/corticosteroid-nasal-route/precautions/drg-20070513
  6. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000404.htm
  7. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/prednisone-oral-route/description/drg-20075269
  8. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/corticosteroid-nasal-route/side-effects/drg-20070513?p=1
  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/steroids/art-20045692
  10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cushing-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20351310
  11. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/steroid-injections/
  12. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/11/011127004650.htm
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