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How to Choose Allergy Medicine: Tips to Consider

June 12, 2017


Allergy symptoms can make you miserable, forcing you to keep a steady supply of tissues. And while avoiding your allergy triggers can help reduce or eliminate symptoms, sometimes — like during spring blooming — you need a little extra help combating your symptoms.

Over-the-counter remedies can provide relief, but with so many to choose from, how can you make the right choice? Here are tips for how to choose allergy medicine.

Types of Allergy Medication

When you think of allergy medicine, you probably think of the kind of sedating drug that — although it relieves your symptoms — can leave you feeling groggy. But many options are available today to treat your allergy symptoms. Let’s take a look at some popular options. 

First-generation antihistamines

How they work: Antihistamines work by preventing the release of histamine, which attach to your cells and cause allergy symptoms. First-generation antihistamines — like Benadryl — can also cause sleepiness. These medications also work in the part of the brain that controls nausea and vomiting, which is why they are sometimes used to treat motion sickness.

Second-generation antihistamines

How they work: Like their first-generation predecessors, these antihistamines — like Claritin and Allegra — work by preventing the release of histamine, but without the drowsiness side effect.

Antihistamine nasal sprays

How they work: These sprays relieve symptoms of a runny, itchy nose and nasal congestion. While they usually cause less drowsiness than antihistamine pills, nasal sprays can still cause some drowsiness. These sprays are available by prescription from your doctor.

Steroid nasal sprays

How they work: These sprays contain corticosteroids, which suppress allergy-related inflammation. Unlike decongestant nasal sprays, corticosteroid nasal sprays work best when used daily and may take a few weeks to become effective. They are available over the counter and by prescription.

Mast cell stabilizers

How they work: Mast cell stabilizers work by blocking the release of immune system chemicals that contribute to allergic responses. To receive full benefit, you need to use these drugs for several days. They are often used if antihistamines aren’t working or aren’t well tolerated and are available by prescription.

Allergy shots:

How they work: Allergy shots help your body fight an allergen by exposing it to small amounts of the allergen over a period of time. After a while, the antibodies your body produces to the allergen will help block your immune system’s reaction.

What to Consider When Choosing a Medicine

Regardless of what method you choose to relieve your symptoms, keep in mind it may have side effects. And it’s never a good idea to combine types of allergy medications. If over-the-counter options aren’t working, talk to your doctor about other options.

Before you treat allergies, talk to your doctor if:

  • You’re pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You have a chronic condition like high blood pressure or diabetes
  • You’re taking other medications, including supplements
  • You’re treating allergies in a child or older adult
  • Your allergy medication isn’t working

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