Several types of medications are used to treat allergy symptoms. Discover which ones are right for you.
- Antihistamine nasal sprays help relieve sneezing, itchy or runny nose, sinus congestion, and postnasal drip. Prescription antihistamine nasal sprays include azelastine (Astelin, Astepro) and olopatadine (Patanase). Side effects of antihistamine nasal spray may include bitter taste, dizziness, drowsiness or fatigue, dry mouth, headache, nasal burning, nosebleed, nausea, runny nose, sore throat, and sneezing.
- Antihistamine eyedrops are often combined with other medications such as mast cell stabilizers or decongestants. Antihistamine eyedrops can reduce itching, redness and swollen eyes. You may need to use these medications several times a day, as the effects may last only a few hours. Over-the-counter examples include ketotifen (Zaditor, Alaway, others), naphazoline (Visine-A, Opcon-A, others). Prescription examples include naphazoline (Albalon, others), emedastine (Emadine) and olopatadine (Patanol, others). Side effects of these medications can include red eyes, watering eyes, headache, and mild stinging or burning. Antihistamine eyedrops increase the risk of eye inflammation when you're wearing contact lenses.
DecongestantsDecongestants are used for quick, temporary relief of nasal and sinus congestion. You may need to avoid decongestants if you're pregnant, you're older, or you have high blood pressure.
Oral decongestants (pills and liquids) relieve nasal and sinus congestion caused by hay fever. Many decongestants are available over-the-counter. Examples include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, others). A number of medications contain a decongestant such as pseudoephedrine combined with other medications. Claritin-D, for example, contains pseudoephedrine and an antihistamine. Oral decongestants can cause a number of side effects, including irritability, fast or irregular heartbeat, dizziness, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, tremors and increased blood pressure. Check with your doctor before using oral decongestants, as these medications are potentially dangerous if you take certain other medications or if you have high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease or certain other health problems.
- Nasal decongestant sprays relieve nasal and sinus congestion. Examples include phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine, others) and oxymetazoline (Afrin, others). Nasal decongestants can cause dryness, burning or stinging inside the nose, runny nose and sneezing. Taking too much of a nasal decongestant can cause irritability, fast or irregular heartbeat, dizziness, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, tremors and increased blood pressure. Don't use a decongestant nasal spray for more than a week or so, or you may develop severe congestion as soon as you stop taking it (rebound congestion).
- Decongestant eyedrops (or combined decongestant-antihistamine eyedrops) can temporarily ease symptoms such as red, itchy eyes. Available over-the-counter, examples include tetrahydrozoline (Visine, Clear Eyes, others). Side effects include persistent eye redness and damage to blood vessels in the eye when overused. Rarely, this medication causes a type of sudden (acute) glaucoma.
Other allergy medicationsA few other medications work by blocking symptom-causing chemicals released during an allergic reaction.
- Montelukast (Singulair) is a prescription medication that blocks symptom-causing chemicals called leukotrienes. This oral medication relieves allergy signs and symptoms including nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing. Side effects can include upper respiratory infection in adults, and headache, ear infection and sore throat in children. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that leukotriene-blocking medications could possibly cause psychological symptoms, such as irritability, anxiousness, insomnia, hallucinations, aggression, depression, suicidal thinking and suicidal behavior, in some people.
- Cromolyn sodium (NasalCrom) is an over-the-counter nasal spray. It prevents the release of histamine and other symptom-causing chemicals during an allergic reaction. This medication works best when you take it before your symptoms start. Some people need to use the spray three or four times a day. Side effects may include nasal stinging or sneezing.
- Mast cell stabilizer eyedrops prevent the release of symptom-causing chemicals such as histamine during an allergic reaction. These prescription medications reduce allergy symptoms such as red, itchy eyes. Examples include cromolyn sodium (Crolom), lodoxamide (Alomide), pemirolast (Alamast) and nedocromil (Alocril). These medications don't usually cause noticeable side effects.
ImmunotherapyImmunotherapy injections (allergy shots) may relieve hay fever symptoms or allergic asthma that doesn't improve with medications, or you aren't able to take allergy medications without side effects. Over a period of three to five years, you receive regular injections containing allergen extracts. The goal is to desensitize you to specific allergens and decrease or eliminate your need for medications. Immunotherapy may be especially effective if you're allergic to cat dander, dust mites, or pollen produced by trees, grass and weeds. In children with allergic rhinitis, immunotherapy may help prevent the development of asthma. Rarely, immunotherapy injections can cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
Emergency epinephrine shots
Work with your doctor
- You're taking any other medications, including herbal supplements.