Choosing the Right Allergy Medications for Your Allergy Symptoms


Choosing the Right Allergy Medications for Your Allergy Symptoms

Allergy sufferers looking for relief at the local pharmacy are faced with many product choices. To make the right choice for you, you first need to recognize and understand your allergy symptoms. Then, learn what medicines are available over-the-counter, how each medicine works, and which symptoms each type of medicine is designed to treat.

What’s happening: The allergic response

Allergies are the immune system’s response to normally harmless substances that it mistakes for harmful substances. Exposure to what is normally a harmless substance, such as pollen, causes the immune system to react as if the substance is harmful. Substances that cause allergies are called allergens.

When you come into contact with an allergen, your immune system kicks into gear. If you are allergic to pollens or other substance that you breathe in, the membranes in your nose might become irritated, swollen, and inflamed, leading to symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose, headache, and/or congestion (pressure) in your nose and head. Your eyes also might water and itch. If you are allergic to something that comes into contact with your skin, you might break out in hives or a rash. Taking the right medicine for your symptoms is important.

Which Allergy Medicine is Best for your allergy symptoms

There are many medicines available over-the-counter to treat mild allergy symptoms. The most common medicines are:

  • Antihistamines
  • Decongestants

Some medicines combine an antihistamine and a decongestant, and some include a pain reliever.

Antihistamines

When you inhale an allergen, special cells in your nose and sinuses (the open spaces behind your nose and eyes) release a chemical called histamine. Histamine causes the tissues in your nose to itch and swell, and to alter the mucus it secretes. (It becomes clear and runny.) Antihistamine medicines block histamine from interacting with the nasal tissues, thus preventing symptoms.

Decongestants

In response to an allergen, the tissues in your nose swell, and increase their production of fluid and mucus. As a result, you might feel fullness or pressure in your nose and head (congestion), and you might have trouble breathing through your nose. Decongestants help reduce the swelling, which relieves the feeling of pressure and improves airflow through your nose.

Topical corticosteroids

Many products, especially those containing fragrances and/or dyes, can irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms include:

  • Itchy
  • Scaly red patches or rash
  • Swelling
  • Hives
  • Blisters

Topical (on the skin) corticosteroids can help control the itching, swelling, and redness.

Examples of Common Over-the-counter Allergy Medicines

1. Antihistamine (tablets, caplets or liquid)

Brand Name(s)

  • Benadryl
  • Chlor-Trimeton
  • Dimetane
  • Tavist

Symptoms Treated

  • Itchy, runny nose and eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy throat

Possible Side Effects

  • Drowsiness or grogginess
  • Upset stomach
  • Dry mouth
  • Impaired coordination and judgment
  • Urinary retention
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excitability (in children)
2. Decongestant (tablets or caplets)

Brand Name(s)

  • Sudafed

Symptoms Treated

  • Congestion and pressure in head, nose, and ears

Possible Side Effects

  • Lightheadedness
  • Wakefulness
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness (jittery and shaky)
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Irregular heart beat
3. Antihistamine/decongestant (tablets, caplets, or liquid)

Brand Name

  • Actifed
  • Chlor-Trimeton D
  • Dimetapp
  • Drixoral
  • Tavist D

Symptoms Treated

  • Itchy runny nose and eyes
  • Dneezing
  • Congestion

Possible Side Effects

  • Possible antihistamine and/or decongestant side effects
4. Antihistamine/decongestant/ pain reliever (tablets, caplets, or liquid)

Brand Name

  • Advil Cold and Sinus
  • Comtrex Day/Night
  • Tylenol Allergy Sinus

Symptoms Treated

  • Itchy runny nose and eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Headache

Possible Side Effects

  • Possible antihistamine and/or decongestant side effects
5. Saline nose sprays

Brand Name(s)

  • Ayr Saline
  • Ocean

Symptoms Treated

  • Nasal stuffiness

Possible Side Effects

  • None
6. Decongestant nose spray

Brand Name(s)

  • Afrin
  • Neo-Synephrine
  • Dristan Nasal Spray

Symptoms Treated

  • Nasal stuffiness

Possible Side Effects

  • Might lead to "rebound" congestion from dependence on the medicine if used for more than 3 to 5 days
7. Cromolyn sodium nose spray

Brand Name(s)

  • Nasalcrom

Symptoms Treated

  • Itchy, runny nose
  • Sneezing

Possible Side Effects

  • Irritation of the nose/nose bleeds
  • Skin rash
  • Increase in sneezing
  • Unpleasant taste
8. Antihistamine eye drops

Brand Name(s)

  • Visine-A (Formerly OcuHist)

Symptoms Treated

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Eye redness

Possible Side Effects

  • Temporary stinging in the eyes or blurred vision
  • "Rebound" redness of the eyes if overused
9. Topical corticosteroids

Brand Name(s)

  • Cortaid
  • Cortisone 10t

Symptoms Treated

  • Red, itchy skin
  • Rash
  • Hives

Possible Side Effects

  • Burning, dryness, irritation of the skin, increased redness or scaling

Be PPA Aware

Phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, was used for years as an ingredient in many cold and cough remedies to relieve stuffy nose and congestion, and in diet pills to control appetite. In 2000, PPA was linked to a significantly increased risk of stroke, especially in women ages 18 to 49. As a result, the Federal Food and Drug Administration in November 2000 banned the use of PPA in all prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Although newly manufactured drugs do not contain PPA, older medicines you might still have in your medicine cabinet might contain the ingredient. Now might be a good time to clean out your medicine cabinet and discard all old medicines. If you have concerns about PPA or its risks, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist.