Allergy medications are available as pills, liquids, inhalers, nasal sprays, eyedrops, skin creams and shots (injections). Some are available over-the-counter; others are available by prescription only. Here’s a summary of the types of allergy medications and why they’re used.
Antihistamines block histamine, a symptom-causing chemical released by your immune system during an allergic reaction.
Oral antihistamines are available over-the-counter and by prescription. They ease a runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, hives, swelling, and other signs or symptoms of allergies. Because some of these drugs can make you feel drowsy and tired, take them with caution when you need to drive or do other activities that require alertness.
Antihistamines that tend to cause drowsiness include:
These antihistamines are much less likely to cause drowsiness:
Antihistamine nasal sprays help relieve sneezing, itchy or runny nose, sinus congestion, and postnasal drip.
Side effects of antihistamine nasal sprays might include a bitter taste, drowsiness or feeling tired. Prescription antihistamine nasal sprays include:
Antihistamine eyedrops, available over-the-counter or by prescription, can ease itchy, red, swollen eyes. These drops might have a combination of antihistamines and other medicines.
Side effects might include headache and dry eyes. If antihistamine drops sting or burn, try keeping them in the refrigerator or using refrigerated artificial-tear drops before you use them. Examples include:
Pheniramine and naphazoline
Decongestants are used for quick, temporary relief of nasal and sinus
They can cause trouble sleeping, headache, increased blood pressure and irritability. They’re not recommended for people with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, glaucoma or hyperthyroidism.
Pills and liquids
Oral decongestants relieve nasal and sinus congestion caused by hay fever (allergic rhinitis). Many decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), are available over-the-counter.
A number of oral allergy medications contain a decongestant and an antihistamine. Examples include:
Cetirizine and pseudoephedrine
Desloratadine and pseudoephedrine
Fexofenadine and pseudoephedrine
Loratadine and pseudoephedrine
Nasal sprays and drops
Nasal decongestant sprays and drops relieve nasal and sinus congestion if used only for a short time. Repeated use of these drugs for more than three consecutive days may result in a cycle where congestion recurs or gets worse. Examples include:
Corticosteroids relieve symptoms by suppressing allergy-related inflammation.
Corticosteroid sprays prevent and relieve stuffiness, sneezing and runny nose. Side effects can include an unpleasant taste, nasal irritation and nosebleeds. Examples include:
For people who are bothered by the feeling of liquid running down their throats or the unpleasant taste of these sprays, there are two aerosol formulas:
Inhaled corticosteroids are often used daily as part of treatment for asthma caused or complicated by reactions to airborne allergy triggers (allergens). Side effects are generally minor and can include mouth and throat irritation and oral yeast infections.
Some inhalers combine corticosteroids with long-acting bronchodilators. Prescription inhalers include: