Which Allergy Medicine Works Best?
When you’re suffering from allergies, you want immediate relief. But of all your options for over-the-counter allergy medications, which one works best? The answer to this question depends on the type of allergy symptoms you’re experiencing and how often you get allergies.
Best Allergy Medications by Symptoms
Understanding the allergy symptoms you experience will help you choose the best medication for you. Here is a list of different types of allergy drugs and what symptoms they treat.
Many allergic reactions involve the release of histamine in your body. This chemical produces a variety of allergy symptoms including:
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Sore throat
- Itchy or watery eyes
Antihistamines block the effects of histamine in your body, providing relief of these symptoms.
Examples of antihistamines include:
- Zyrtec (available as generic cetirizine)
- Allegra (available as generic fexofenadine)
- Xyzal (available as generic levocetirizine)
- Claritin (available as generic loratadine)
- Benadryl (available as generic diphenhydramine)
If you’re experiencing a stuffy nose, a decongestant is the best medication for relief. Decongestants work by reducing swelling in your nasal passages. However, you shouldn’t use them for more than three days.
Decongestants are often taken with an antihistamine and can come in various forms such as nasal spray, eye drops, liquid, and pills.
Some common brands of decongestants include:
- Sudafed (generic pseudoephedrine)
- Neo-Synephrine (generic phenylephrine)
- Oxymetazoline (generic afrin)
Corticosteroids reduce inflammation, so they are best for treating stuffy or runny nose and sneezing. They can also treat other conditions like asthma or eczema. Corticosteroids come in several different forms depending on their intended use. When looking for allergy relief, you’ll find corticosteroids in nasal sprays, pills, or liquid form. They are also prescribed as an injection sometimes for severe allergies that don’t respond well to other treatments.
Combination Allergy Medications
Combination allergy medications contain both an antihistamine and a decongestant. This makes them effective for multi-symptom relief and eliminates the need to take two separate medications. A combination allergy medication may save you money since you only have to buy one medicine to relieve all your symptoms.
Best Allergy Medications for Short-term Relief
For fast, short-term allergy relief, take an antihistamine, decongestant, or combination allergy medication. These types of allergy medications rapidly relieve symptoms. However, decongestants cannot be taken long-term.
Best Allergy Medications for Long-term Relief
If you regularly suffer from allergies during a certain time of year (for example, spring or fall allergies), consider talking to your doctor about corticosteroids. Although these take longer to relieve symptoms, they are very effective for long-term symptom management. You can plan ahead and start taking a corticosteroid a few weeks before allergy season starts.
Another option for long-term relief is immunotherapy. This can come in the form of allergy shots or tablets taken under the tongue. Immunotherapy works by exposing you to low levels of allergens and then gradually increasing the exposure so that your immune system builds up a tolerance.
Side Effects from Allergy Medications
Over-the-counter allergy medications may cause mild or, in some cases, severe side effects. Tell your doctor about any side effects you experience while taking allergy medications. Be sure to read the drug label so you understand all potential risks and drug interactions. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as these can interact with many common allergy medications.
Antihistamine Side Effects
First-generation antihistamines often cause drowsiness and may impair your ability to drive or operate machinery. Use caution until you know how a particular medication affects you. Second-generation antihistamines usually do not cause drowsiness.
Other side effects from antihistamines include:
- Upset stomach
- Dry mouth, nose, and throat
- Thickening of mucus
- Changes in vision
- Nervousness, anxiety, or irritability
- Increased appetite
Decongestant Side Effects
- Nausea or vomiting
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Dry mouth
- Burning, stinging or dryness in your nostrils
Some more serious side effects are also possible and can include high blood pressure, changes in heart rate, numbness in hands or feet, tremors, and more. Tell your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
Corticosteroid Side Effects
Corticosteroids can irritate your nose and throat, but may also cause other side effects depending on the form of the medication. Nasal sprays can cause nose bleeds and sores, while oral corticosteroids may cause muscle weakness, joint pain, and anxiety or depression. Visit Healthline for a full list of side effects.
Prescription vs. Over-the-Counter Allergy Medications
In many cases, over-the-counter (OTC) medications can effectively treat your allergies. Talk to your doctor if your symptoms persist or do not respond to OTC remedies. Your doctor may recommend a prescription-strength medication.
Ask your doctor to write a prescription for an over-the-counter allergy medication to save you money. Health insurance may cover a prescription for allergy medication but not an OTC purchase of the same drug.
You could also find discounts on Rx allergy treatments. For example, America’s Pharmacy offers a free prescription discount card and drug-specific coupons that you can use on all your Rx medications. Search for your drugs and see what you could save: