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Best Allergy Medications: What You Need to Know
May 26, 2023
Read Time - 10 minutes
Written by
Medically reviewed by
Last updated on September 13, 2023

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:

Many antihistamine drugs are supplied with a decongestant (like 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:

Decongestant nasal sprays include:

  • Oxymetazoline (Afrin)
  • Tetrahydrozoline (Tyzine)--also available as eye drops

It's also important to note that certain brands, such as Sudafed, Vicks Sinex, and Benadryl Allergy Plus Congestion, list phenylephrine as the active decongestive ingredient. However, recent studies and a FDA medical advisory panel found that phenylephrine doesn't actually work to treat nasal congestion when taken orally. As of September 12, 2023, the FDA has ruled phenylephrine ineffective, meaning that many products containing the ingredient may be taken off shelves.

Additionally, 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:

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 have it ready at a nearby pharmacy for same-day pickup. All prescriptions are at your provider’s discretion.

Video allergy consult

Connect directly with a doctor or provider over video to address your symptoms and treat your seasonal allergies today.

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Medical disclaimer

Sesame content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern, it is critical to seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions. If you are facing a medical emergency, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room immediately.