- Best Allergy Medications: What You Need to Know
A guide to finding the best allergy medication for you
Allergies can make you miserable. No one likes having a runny nose, itchy eyes, or sneezes that just won’t stop. Some people experience these symptoms at a specific time of year, known as “seasonal allergies.” On the other hand, some people experience these symptoms all year round. Whether you get a tickle in your nose or burst into an irritated mess around a friendly pet, there’s no denying that allergies can disrupt your day.
Unfortunately, no one has found a way to cure allergies yet. The symptoms of an allergic reaction are caused by your body mistakenly identifying foreign substances like pollen or pet dander as harmful pathogens. When this happens, your immune system releases an organic substance called histamine to defend the body against what it perceives as a dangerous invader. The downside of this process is that the release of histamines causes many of the symptoms we associate with an allergic reaction. The upside is there are a great many medication options available to reduce these symptoms and improve your quality of life.
We’ve detailed some of the best allergy medication options available to help you find the best treatment for your allergies.
Antihistamines are a class of drugs used to treat the symptoms of allergies. Antihistamines work to block the body’s release of histamines. Histamines bond to cells in the body, which causes the symptoms of an allergic response. This includes sneezing, watery eyes, and difficulty breathing.
Antihistamines used to treat allergy symptoms are classified as H-1 blockers. These drugs specifically target histamine receptors to prevent the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Many of these drugs are widely available over the counter (OTC) at most pharmacies. Antihistamines can be supplied as an oral pill, capsule, chewable tablet, liquid, nasal spray, or medicated eye drops. In addition, for those managing severe symptoms, prescription-strength antihistamines are available via health care provider’s prescription.
OTC H-1 antihistamines include:
- Cetirizine (generic for Zyrtec)
- Loratadine (generic for Alavert and Claritin)
- Diphenhydramine (generic for Benadryl)
- Fexofenadine (generic for Allegra)
- Brompheniramine (generic for Dimetane)
- Chlorpheniramine (generic for Chlor-Trimeton)
- Clemastine (generic for Dayhist)
- Doxylamine (generic for Vicks NyQuil)
Prescription H-1 antihistamines include:
- Azelastine (Astelin )
- Desloratadine (Clarinex)
- Cyproheptadine (Periactin)
- Hydroxyzine (generic for Vistaril)
- Levocetirizine (generic for Xyzal)
Many antihistamine drugs are supplied with a decongestant (like phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine) to help reduce allergy symptoms while clearing up nasal congestion. These drugs can be taken every day or as needed.
First-generation antihistamines (notably Benadryl, Dimetane, and Dramamine) cause drowsiness. Because of this, you should not take these drugs in the morning or before operating any machinery. Many generic and brand-name antihistamine drugs will come with a “Drowsy” or “Non-Drowsy” option. Take a “Non-Drowsy” antihistamine for daytime relief, and save the “Drowsy” option to prevent allergy symptoms as you sleep.
Decongestants provide immediate relief for congestion symptoms caused by an allergic reaction. These drugs are meant for short-term use only. These drugs reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, making breathing easier.
Decongestants are commonly supplied as oral tablets or nasal sprays. Again, these drugs should only be used for immediate relief. Both over-the-counter and prescription-strength options are available for most decongestant drugs, depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms. Some medications contain antihistamines and decongestants to provide immediate symptom relief while combating the body’s allergic response.
Oral medications containing a decongestant and antihistamine include:
- Desloratadine and pseudoephedrine (Clarinex-D)
- Loratadine and pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D)
- Cetirizine and pseudoephedrine (Zyrtec-D)
- Fexofenadine and pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D)
Decongestant nasal sprays include:
- Oxymetazoline (Afrin)
- Tetrahydrozoline (Tyzine)--also available as eye drops
Sudafed is an oral decongestant commonly found behind the pharmacy counter. Sudafed comes in both “Drowsy” and “Non-Drowsy” options. While Sudafed can be taken with certain first-generation antihistamines, you should talk to your health care provider before combining medication.
Nasal decongestant sprays have been shown to actually make congestion symptoms worse when used for more than a few days. In addition, decongestants can raise blood pressure. Because of this, their use is not recommended in patients with high blood pressure or those at risk of heart disease.
Corticosteroids, or nasal steroid sprays, are ideal for patients who experience long-term allergy symptoms. These drugs may take several weeks to work but are considered the most effective allergy maintenance therapy. While it is not yet fully known how exactly nasal steroids work on cells in the nose, the use of steroidal nasal sprays has been shown to prevent the release of histamines before an allergic response occurs.
OTC steroid nasal sprays include:
- Mometasone (Nasonex)
- Budesonide (Rhinocort)
- Triamcinolone (Nasacort)
- Fluticasone (Flovent)
Steroidal nasal sprays may cause nosebleeds or nasal irritation. Some people have also reported an unpleasant taste in the back of the throat after administering the spray. Talk to your health care provider if you experience recurring side effects after using a nasal spray.
With a wealth of OTC and prescription options, relief from allergy symptoms has never been more available. Still not sure what type of medication is right for you? Book a video allergy consult on Sesame to discuss your symptoms and possible treatment options with a licensed health care provider. These convenient and affordable online appointments let you get the care you need without the hassle of going to a clinic.
In addition, providers on Sesame can write prescriptions for allergy medication during your video appointment. Depending on the drug, you can get your allergy treatment for just $5 with free shipping or have it ready at a nearby pharmacy for same-day pickup. All prescriptions are at your provider’s discretion.