But first, what are mast cells?
Mast cells are resident-type cells found in many tissues surrounding the body, but are most abundant in structures associated with the blood vessels and nerves. Mast cells contain granules that are rich in histamine and heparin. Though important for the functions they fulfill to the immune system and bloodstream, mast cells can aggravate inflammatory and allergic conditions because of the histamine stored in their granules.
So, what are mast cell stabilizers?
Mast cell stabilizers are medications that prevent the release of histamine from mast cells during an inflammatory or an allergic reaction. Mast cell stabilizers can also be used as anti-inflammatory drugs, but they are not as effective as steroids in allergy conditions. Mast cell stabilizers are available in the following drug forms:
Oral: Typically used in managing a rare immunologic condition known as mastocytosis; may also be used for long-term allergy treatment
Inhaler: For asthma and bronchial constriction caused by allergy
Nasal spray: This form is used in managing respiratory symptoms of hay fever or allergic rhinitis
Eye drops: Used in controlling allergic conjunctivitis
Do mast cell stabilizers have side effects?
Yes. Just like other allergy medication, mast cell stabilizers have their own share of side effects, albeit not life threatening. Inhaled mast cell stabilizers may sometimes irritate the throat and other upper airway structures which can lead to a sore throat or dry coughing. Skin rashes may also appear with inhaled mast cell stabilizers.
Those using this medication in the form of eye drops may experience burning or stinging sensations when they are administered. Some may also experience temporary blurring of vision.
Oral mast cell stabilizers are also known for their bad taste. That is why it is hard for many patients to maintain this treatment. Using a spacer and drinking fruit juice after treatment may help decrease the bad taste and make it more bearable for the patient to take the medication.