The Best Allergy Medications and How to Take Them

Allergies getting you down? Get a handle on allergy season with this roundup of the best allergy medications, plus which are best for you

Suffering from seasonal allergies? Thankfully, relief is as close as your local drugstore. Over-the-counter (OTC) medication may be all most allergy sufferers need, says Dr. Jennifer Malcolm, a general practitioner in Toronto. In fact, people with year-round allergies and skin conditions, such as chronic hives, can safely take antihistamines every day for years, she adds. (However, these medications can interact with other drugs and worsen certain conditions, so speak with your pharmacist.)

Chat with your doctor about your experience during allergy season last year. “He or she may recommend allergy shots, an inhaled nasal steroid or an OTC allergy medication with a different active ingredient than what you’ve used in the past. ‘In my practice, someone will swear by one brand, while someone else swears by another,” Malcolm adds.

(Related: The Best Over-the-Counter Cold and Flu Meds)

Start taking suggested allergy medications early, as soon as pollen counts begin to rise in your area. “Once the symptoms have started, they’re harder to control,” says Shakeel Bhatti, a pharmacist and clinical tutor at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of pharmaceutical sciences. “People come into the pharmacy with a runny nose and itchy eyes, and end up needing multiple medications.” Here are some OTC options to consider.

Traditional antihistamine

Example: Benadryl
How they work: Ingredients such as diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine are the most effective on the market for blocking the histamine we release in response to allergens, says Bhatti. Histamine triggers the symptoms of a reaction (runny nose, itchy eyes).
Keep in mind: This older-generation medication can cause drowsiness and often last only eight hours. If your allergies peak at night, consider taking one before bed and a newer-generation pill for daytime.

(Related: If You Have Winter Allergies, Here’s Why and What Experts Recommend)

New-generation antihistamine

Example: Reactine, Allegra, Aerius, Claritin
How they work: Active ingredients such as cetirizine, fexofenadine, desloratadine and loratadine also block histamine. They’re slightly less effective for allergies than older-generation products, but don’t make you sleepy, says Bhatti. They can last 12 to 24 hours, depending on the formula.
Keep in mind: As with many OTC medications, see if the regular-strength version works before using the extra-strength, says Malcolm.

Eye and nose sodium-cromoglycate drops and spray

Example: Opticrom
What they do: Sodium cromoglycate stops mast cells in the eyes and nose from releasing histamine, preventing allergic reactions. These kinds of eye drops can be a real saviour for itchy eyes, says Bhatti.
Keep in mind: It’s safe to take long term and works best if taken before the onset of allergy symptoms. (Note that unlike sodium-cromoglycate products, regular nasal sprays and eye drops may contain decongestants, which can trigger rebound symptoms.)

Note: Some OTC allergy medications contain decongestants in addition to antihistamine. Ask your pharmacist. Says Bhatti: Decongestants can cause rebound congestion if taken for more than three days in a row, can worsen glaucoma and high blood pressure, and can increase the risk of stroke.

Next, here are 10 questions to ask about prescription medication before taking them

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada