Seasonal Allergies: Which Medication is Right for You?

Since you can’t always stay indoors when pollen counts are high, your healthcare provider may recommend prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve symptoms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates a number of medications that offer allergy relief. 

Antihistamines reduce or block symptom-causing histamines and are available in many forms, including tablets and liquids. Many oral antihistamines are available over the counter (OTC) and in generic form. When choosing an OTC antihistamine, patients should read the Drug Facts label closely and follow dosing instructions. Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness and interfere with the ability to drive or operate heavy machinery, like a car. There are other antihistamines that do not have this side effect; they are non-sedating. Some non-sedating antihistamines are available by prescription.

Nasal corticosteroids are typically sprayed into the nose once or twice a day to treat inflammation. Side effects may include stinging in the nose.  Decongestants are drugs available both by prescription and OTC and come in oral and nasal spray forms. They are sometimes recommended in combination with antihistamines, which used alone do not have an effect on nasal congestion.  Drugs that contain pseudoephedrine are available without a prescription but are kept behind the pharmacy counter to prevent their use in making methamphetamine—a powerful, highly addictive stimulant often produced illegally in home laboratories. You will need to ask your pharmacist and show identification to purchase drugs that contain pseudoephedrine.  Using decongestant nose sprays and drops more than a few days may give you a “rebound” effect—your nasal congestion could get worse. These drugs are more useful for short-term use to relieve nasal congestion. Immunotherapy may help if other medications don’t relieve your symptoms. One form of allergen immunotherapy is allergy shots in which your body responds to injected amounts of a particular allergen, given in gradually increasing doses, by developing immunity or tolerance to that allergen.

Of Note from NCPIE: Use your over-the counter medicines safely.