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Understanding Allergy and Hay Fever Medications (cont.)

What Medical Treatments Are Used for Allergies and Hay Fever?

Although it is not always possible, one should attempt to avoid contact with known or suspected allergens. (If you have cats and are allergic to cat dander, it is best to reconsider having cats.) At first, some nonprescription antihistamines or decongestants may be tried to decrease nasal congestion (that "stuffed up" feeling), a runny nose, and itching or watery eyes. If symptoms persist, a doctor or health-care professional may prescribe a prescription-strength medication. The following sections discuss some common medications for allergies and hay fever.


Many antihistamine drugs are available without a prescription. Examples include the first-generation antihistamines such as brompheniramine (Dimetapp, Bromphen, Dimetane, Nasahist), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), clemastine (Allerhist, Tavist), and diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and the second-generation antihistamine loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (Allegra). Loratadine, cetirizine and fexofenadine do not cause drowsiness do not cause or cause less drowsiness than first-generation antihistamines.

Common prescription antihistamines (all second-generation antihistamines) include desloratadine (Clarinex), and levocetirizine (Xyzal). These antihistamines (along with loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine) are less likely to cause adverse effects like drowsiness or dry mouth.

Antihistamine nasal sprays, such as azelastine (Astelin) and olopatadine (Patanase), are also available to treat symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, and itchy nose.

  • How antihistamines work: These drugs compete with histamine for histamine receptor sites. Histamine is a chemical released by specialized allergy cells called activated mast cells during the allergic response. By occupying the histamine receptor sites, they prevent histamine from causing the characteristic allergic symptoms. Antihistamines are most effective when taken continuously during the allergy season.
  • Who should not use these medications: Antihistamines are contraindicated in individuals allergic to them. They may cause unwanted side effects in the following:
    • Individuals currently using a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI)
    • Individuals with narrow-angle glaucoma
    • Individuals who are breastfeeding
  • Use: Antihistamines come in tablet, chewable tablet, capsule, and liquid forms. How often an antihistamine should be taken each day depends on the individual antihistamine's characteristics and the type of preparation (that is, the dosage form).
  • Drug or food interactions: Avoid taking other drugs that cause drowsiness, such as alcohol, sleep preparations, sedatives, or tranquilizers. Avoid taking MAOIs (for example, isocarboxazid [Marplan], phenelzine sulfate [Nardil], or tranylcypromine [Parnate]) within 14 days of antihistamines. For drug interactions specific to a particular antihistamine, talk with a doctor or pharmacist.
  • Side effects: Many antihistamines (particularly the first-generation agents) may cause the following side effects:
    • Drowsiness
    • Dry mouth
    • Urine retention
    • Blurred vision
    • Before driving a car or operating machinery, be sure to know if the antihistamine affects the ability to concentrate and stay awake.
    • Check with a health-care provider before taking antihistamines if you are unsure whether or not antihistamines will be appropriate for you.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/17/2016

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