Cromolyn sodium is the active ingredient in many different types of asthma and allergy medications. It works by inhibiting the release of histamines and other inflammation-inducing chemicals from the immune system in response to an allergen or an asthma trigger. The drug is typically used as a form of preventive medicine, meaning that patients are instructed to use it daily in order to prevent the onset of symptoms. Cromolyn sodium is regarded as a very safe medicine and the risk of side effects is low.
Many allergy and asthma symptoms such as wheezing, breathing difficulty, runny nose, and eye watering are actually triggered by the immune system rather than the pathogen itself. Mast cells in the airways and nasal cavities release histamines that induce inflammation, irritation, and swelling. Cromolyn sodium is a mast cell stabilizer, which means that it prevents mast cells from triggering inflammatory responses. The drug is most effective when it is taken before an acute asthma or allergy attack. Other medications such as bronchodilators may be prescribed in addition to cromolyn sodium to combat active episodes.
Cromolyn sodium is widely available as a prescription oral inhaler, an ingredient in inhaled nebulizer medication, and a nasal spray. Some over-the-counter allergy medications also contain low doses of the ingredient. A concentrated form may also be prescribed as an eye drop to prevent episodes of severe allergic conjunctivitis. Most doctors suggest that patients use their medications four times daily at regular times. It generally takes about one month of treatment before noticing results.
Side effects are uncommon with cromolyn sodium. Some people experience dryness in the nose or throat, nausea, headaches, and nosebleeds shortly after taking a dose. Severe wheezing, chest tightness, skin hives, and fever may be signs of an allergic reaction to the drug. If serious side effects occur, a patient should stop using the medication and seek emergency room care. The prescribing doctor can try another type of mast cell stabilizer when an allergy to cromolyn sodium is present.
When the drug is used as directed, most patients experience significant symptom relief. Nasal allergies or asthma attacks may still occur, but they are usually much less frequent and less severe. After a patient takes cromolyn sodium for about one year without complications, the doctor may suggest gradually stepping down dosages and eventually stopping medication use altogether to see if symptoms return. In some cases, allergies and asthma are permanently resolved.