OTC allergy medication comparison

Allergy sufferers can find many options for relief at their local pharmacy. Today, more and more prescription-strength allergy medications are available over-the-counter.

The most common otc allergy medications are antihistamines and decongestants. When the immune system comes into contact with an allergen, cells in your nose and sinus release histamine, a chemical that causes itchiness, watery eyes, and other symptoms. Antihistamines keep histamine from affecting your body, therefore preventing symptoms. Popular otc antihistamines include Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra. There are also older formulas such as Benadryl which, while available over-the-counter, tend to cause drowsiness. These medications are available in a tablet, caplet, or liquid form. Antihistamine eyedrops, helpful for relieving itchy eyes, include ketotifen (sold as Zaditor, Alaway, and others) and pheniramine (such as Visine). There is also nasal spray containing antihistamine, sold as Cromolyn (Nasalcrom).

Decongestants reduce swelling, relieving the feeling of pressure and improving the flow of air through your nose, reducing mucus production and feelings of stuffiness. There are many decongestants available without a prescription, such as Sudafed, known medically as pseudoephedrine. Decongestant eyedrops include naphazoline (such as Clear Eyes) and tetrahydrozoline (Visine).

Topical corticosteroids are helpful for reducing symptoms of allergies affecting the skin, such as rashes, hives, blisters, redness, itching, and swelling. Most are only available as a prescription, through over-the-counter options are available of low-potency formulas such as Cortaid and Cortisone.

In addition to these medications, there are also a number of combination medications which include two or more medication types to relieve multiple allergy symptoms. For example, Claritin-D contains both pseodoephedrine (a decongestant) and an antihistamine. Other examples include Tylenol Allergy and Sinus, Advil Cold and Sinus, Allegra-D, Zyrtec-D, Dimetapp, Actifed, and Benadryl Allergy and Sinus.

Work with your doctor to choose the best allergy medication to treat your symptoms. Even though these medications are available without a prescription, they do have side effects, and can interfere with other medications you may be taking, making consultation with your doctor important.


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