Allergy season is upon us. Now that most allergy medications are available over the counter, it is helpful to know how to use these medications for allergy symptoms.

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  1. Try artificial tears first. This is a natural way to reduce the irritation caused by allergens.
  2. Zaditor and Alaway: Anti-histamine eye drops are very effective at reducing eye itching caused by allergies.
  3. Eye drops like Visine-A and Naphcon are often used to reduce the redness associated with eye allergies. They work by constricting the blood vessels in the eye. Avoid using these medications or any other “redness reducers” for more than a few days in a row. Daily use will cause worsening symptoms when discontinued.
  • Runny nose, sneezing, or post-nasal drip
  1. Nasal saline spray is a natural way to relieve relieve nasal allergy symptoms and has no side effects.
  2. Non-sedating antihistamines like Claritin (loratadine), Allegra (Fexofenadine), or Zyrtec (Cetirizine) are very effective for allergies and can be taken once daily. Keep in mind that 1 out of 10 people will experience sleepiness with non-sedating antihistamines.
  3. Avoid sedating antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), hydroxyzine, cyproheptadine, and chlorpheniramine. Always read the labels. Combination allergy medications often contain these medications.
  • Nasal congestion
  1. Saline nasal spray is a natural way to relieve congestion and has no side effects.
  2. Decongestants (pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine) reduce congestion and are combined with an antihistamine in Claritin-D, Allegra-D, and Zyrtec-D. If you have runny nose, itchy eyes, and congestion, this is the best choice.
  3. NasalChrom nasal spray can help to prevent the allergic response. It must be used before exposure to the allergen so this medication can’t be used as needed for symptom relief.
  4. Avoid using decongestant nasal sprays like Afrin (generic = oxymetolazone) for more than 3 days in a row. Afrin reduces congestion by constricting the blood vessels in the nose. Daily use will cause worsening symptoms when discontinued.
  • Sinus pressure and headache
  1. Analgesics (Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen) are helpful to relieve sinus pressure. If you also have nasal congestion, you can get analgesics combined with a decongestant (pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine). There are many combination brands so make sure to read the label to know what your are getting. If you have thick or dry nasal congestion, avoid antihistamines since these can dry the mucous out even more.

Other tips/common questions:

  • Often patients assume that congestion and sinus pain means that they have a sinus infection and need antibiotics. Repeated studies show that antibiotics are not beneficial unless symptoms persist for greater than 3 weeks.
  • Of the above medications, only decongestants have the potential to raise blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, it is best to avoid decongestants. Antihistamines do not raise blood pressure.

For more on allergy medications, check out these links:

Cleveland Clinic: Choosing the right allergy medications

WebMD: Allergy Medications



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