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What is the difference between allergy medications, and how do you figure out which ones will work best for you?

Though there are many types of medications that people can take to alleviate allergy symptoms, choosing one can be very confusing. It is important to know which medication might work better for you and which symptoms each one treats. Allergy drugs are available in pill, liquid, inhaler, nasal spray, eye drops and skin cream form.

Antihistamines: What Are They?                                                

Antihistamines block the release of histamines, the chemicals that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction, in the body. These are available in over-the-counter and in prescription strengths. The over-the-counter variety can be purchased at your local pharmacy. 

Some examples of over-the-counter antihistamines include:

  • Fexofenadine (Allegra®)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®)
  • Brompheniramine (Dimetane)
  • Loratadine (Claritin® and Alavert®)
  • Clemastine (Tavist®)
  • Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton®)
  • Certirizine (Zyrtec®)

To treat the symptoms of eye allergies, a person could take Emadine and/or Livostin. Some medicines such as Allegra-D, Zyrtec-D and Claritin-D use a combination of antihistamine and decongestant to aid in alleviating nasal and head congestion.

Quite a few oral antihistamines are available over-the-counter. These non-prescription allergy drugs can be used to alleviate problems with a runny nose, itchy or watering eyes, urticaria, facial and sinus swelling, and other symptoms of allergies.

Note that some antihistamines — like Benadryl and Chlorpheniramine — can cause fatigue and/or drowsiness. It is important to exercise caution while driving or engaging in other potentially risky activities if you do take these medications, but some people prefer to stay away from them altogether. If you wish to take something that will be less likely to cause drowsiness, you may want to try cetirizine, loratadine, or fexofenadine.

Nasal spray antihistamines help alleviate sneezes, itchy and runny noses, congestion in the sinus cavity and postnasal drip in the nose and throat. There are side effects from using a nasal spray antihistamine and it can include a bitter taste in the mouth and/or throat, drowsiness or fatigue. Over-the-counter allergy sprays include the brands Flonase®, Nasacort®, NasalCrom®, and Zicam®.

Antihistamine eye drops are available over-the-counter and they can make itchy, watery eyes feel much better. These drops may possibly contain a combination of antihistamines and other medications. The most common side effects associated with antihistamine eye drops include headache and dry eyes. If the drops burn or sting with putting them in, a person may be able to alleviate this effect by storing the drops in the fridge before using.

Some examples of antihistamine eye drops include Optivar®, Alaway®, Visine-A®, Opcon-A® and Zaditor®.

What Are Decongestants?

Decongestants are a bit different than antihistamines: these medications are used for quick, temporary relief of sinus congestion. These drugs may cause someone to experience insomnia, irritability, headache and an elevation in blood pressure. In many states pseudoephedrine is available from behind the pharmacy counter, due to the drug being used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. However, it is still considered an over-the-counter medication.

Oral decongestants provide relief of sinus and nasal congestion caused by allergic rhinitis. A lot of these medications contain a combination of medicines and examples include:

  • Zyrtect-D® (combination of cetirizine and pseudoephedrine)
  • Claritin-D® (combination of loratadine and pseudoephedrine)
  • Allegra-D® (combination of fexofenadine and pseudoephedrine)
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