Allergy Medications

A Guide to choosing an Over-the-Counter Allergy Treatment

With the extensive range of allergy medications available today, it can be difficult to make informed choices. While some medications may offer instant relief, they may also present unpleasant or even dangerous side-effects. Others may take a while longer to work, but may also have less unpleasant side effects to worry about. Your choice of medication is also determined by whether you suffer from seasonal allergies, food allergies, environmental allergies or even drug allergies.

Before taking just any allergy medication, it is important to determine what type of allergy needs to be treated. Different types of allergies require different types of medication to ensure successful treatment. Those suffering from seasonal allergies like hayfever will need to make use of different medication to those who suffer from chronic or year-round allergies. Over-the-counter allergy medications fall into general categories of corticosteroids, decongestants and antihistamines. Each of these over the counter options addresses different symptoms and treats them accordingly.


Corticosteroids are able to decrease swelling and inflammation in the airways, which is highly beneficial to asthma sufferers when suffering from an asthma attack. They also help to prevent sneezing and nasal congestion. In order to be as effective as possible, corticosteroid medications need to be administered on a daily basis. These medications need to be administered for at least two consecutive weeks before they show maximum results and offer symptomatic relief. Corticosteroids are available as eye drops (Alrex), inhalers (Flovent, Azmacort), oral medication (Prednisone) and nasal decongestants (Flonase, Nasocort).


These popular allergy medications are often used along with antihistamines in order to ensure maximum allergy relief in as short a time as possible. They are normally used to combat stuffy noses and the headaches caused by the build up of mucous in the nasal passages. It is not recommended that nasal sprays be used for longer than a few days at a time (i.e. five days), as this can result in a “rebound effect”. What this means is that the nasal passages become inflamed resulting in worse symptoms than before – often resulting in a reliance on the product. Pills or tablets can be used safely for longer but are not as effective. A couple examples of decongestants include Sudafed and Allegra-D.

How Decongestants Work

Decongestants work to expel mucous from the lungs and airways and are also able to relieve other allergy symptoms like facial swelling and redness. When the nose is blocked, it tends to increase the production of mucous. This makes breathing difficult which can then result in tiredness. Decongestants are able to reduce the swelling in the blood vessels which line the inside of the nose and sinus passages. Once the swelling reduces in the nasal passages and sinus cavities, the production of mucous is then reduced as well. This allows the allergy sufferer to breathe more easily. An advantage of decongestant medication is that it is normally fast acting, so relief is normally obtained within minutes.


Antihistamines are best known for their success with treating seasonal allergies like grass and pollen. They help to control symptoms like itchy eyes, runny noses and constant sneezing. They are able to prevent the actions of histamine, which the body produces naturally to build up its defences when allergens enter and invade the body. The histamine then binds to what are known as H-1 receptors. This causes a release of chemical substances and an increased flow of blood to the area which leads to allergy symptoms like red, itching eyes and red, swollen or runny noses. Antihistamine medications are able to block these histamine receptors, which results in the allergy symptoms disappearing.

Types of Antihistamines

Available as nasal spray, eye drops, liquid or pills, this category of over the counter medication has been used in allergy treatment for many years. There are two types of antihistamines available. The older (first generation) antihistamines have sedating properties and the newer (second generation) antihistamines do not cause sedation or drowsiness. Allergy symptoms like itching are normally worse at night, so the sedating antihistamines are generally given for evening doses to help the allergy suffer sleep. Non-sedating antihistamines are normally prescribed for daytime use to ensure that allergy sufferers are able to lead a normal life without feeling constantly drowsy. A few examples of antihistamines include Clarinex, Zyrtec and Astelin.

With such an array of options available to treat virtually any allergy symptom known to man, there is no need for anyone to experience discomfort as a result of allergies. It is important to always seek professional medical advice before taking any allergy medication for the first time, even if it is an over the counter product that does not require a doctor’s prescription. To learn about more these medications and their possible side effects you can visit

• Meet the Author • Kevin Clarke

Kevin Clarke is a Pharmacist and Patient safety advocate.

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