Several different types of medicine for allergies are available. Some drugs, like antihistamines, are taken by mouth. Others, such as nasal steroids and cromolyn sodium, are taken as a nasal spray. Decongestants are available as oral medications or as nasal sprays or drops. While some of these medicines require a prescription, others can be purchased over-the-counter. Each drug has potential side effects and precautions to be aware of, so be sure to take it exactly as directed.
An Overview of Allergy Medications
While the first step in allergy relief is avoiding what you are allergic to, this is not always practical. Therefore, many people turn to medicines to help relieve their allergy symptoms. A number of different classes of allergy medicines are available. Each class has several brand-name and generic versions. Some of these medicines are available over-the-counter, while others require a prescription.
The different classes of allergy medication can include:
- Nasal steroids
- Combination medicines.
As the name indicates, an antihistamine counters the effects of histamine, which is released by the mast cells in your body's tissues and contributes to the symptoms of allergies. For many years, antihistamines have been an effective allergy medicine to relieve itching in the nose and eyes, as well as sneezing. While antihistamines are helpful in reducing nasal swelling and drainage, they do not affect nasal congestion.
Many people who take antihistamines have some distressing side effects, such as drowsiness and loss of alertness and coordination. Be sure to avoid this type of drug when you have to drive, operate machinery, or engage in other activities that require you to be alert.
Benadryl® (diphenhydramine hydrochloride) and Chlor-Trimeton® (chlorpheniramine) are common brand-name antihistamines available without a prescription. These drugs for allergies cause drowsiness in about half the people who take them. If they make you feel drowsy, it is best to take them at night.
Antihistamines that cause fewer of these side effects are available over-the-counter or by prescription. These non-sedating antihistamines are as effective as other antihistamines in preventing histamine-related symptoms, but most do so without causing sleepiness.
Prescription antihistamines that cause less sedation (drowsiness) include:
- Clarinex® (desloratadine)
- Allegra® (fexofenadine)
- Xyzal® (levocetirizine)
- Astelin® (azelastine)
- Astepro® (azelastine)
- Claritin® (loratadine), which is also available without a prescription.
Zyrtec® (cetirizine), also available without a prescription, causes drowsiness slightly more often than the other antihistamines mentioned previously.
While these medicines have less sedating effects, they are not any better at treating allergy symptoms than the over-the-counter medicines.
Unless specifically approved by a doctor, antihistamines for allergy treatment should not be used by:
- Anyone with breathing problems such as emphysema or bronchitis
- Anyone with glaucoma
- Those who are taking sedatives or tranquilizers
- Anyone who experiences difficulty with urination.