What Allergy Medicine Is Right for You?
50 million people in the U.S. suffer from some type of allergy symptom. If you’re one of them, you dread the sneezing, itchy eyes, runny noses and nasal congestion that arrive in April and continue through September—and that’s just a result from pollen and ragweed. Dog and cat dander, certain types of foods and even mold spores in household dust make allergies a year-round concern for many others.
Rhinitis occurs when you inhale dust or pollen gets into your eyes, for example, and the immune system generates histamines as part of the allergic reaction. Histamine actually serves an important function in bodily tasks. It is a chemical produced in the brain that aids the function of nerve cells, blood vessels, and digestion, among others. Histamine is also released when it meets an allergen. When they react, they cause the discomfort of repeated sneezing, eyes that are red or itchy, or runny noses. That’s when antihistamines come into play and block that response. Since not all antihistamines work the same, it’s important to know which one works best for you. Some keep you alert and others make you sleepy, while others have added ingredients like a decongestant to help you breathe easier.
Over-the-counter drugs have made it easier to get relief. These meds can give your life more freedom, but there are so many to choose from! You’ve seen all the commercials and they all seem to promise the same result. How do you decipher what allergy medicine works best for you and your irritating symptoms?
Here are some of the most widely used OTC options.
There are several oral antihistamine options for allergies sufferers who need to stay sharp during the day. The difference between many of the options you see on your pharmacy shelf is the active ingredient. All are effective in treating common allergy symptoms, but they have some slight differences.
- Fexofenadine Hydrochloride
- Fexofenadine Hydrochloride is an antihistamine for easing runny and itchy noses, watery and itchy eyes, hives and overall itching. There’s little to no drowsiness with this antihistamine, so it’s a good choice for when you need to manage your symptoms and go about your day. Fexofenadine Hydrochloride is the active ingredient in medicines like Allegra.
- Cetirizine Hydrochloride
- Cetirizine Hydrochloride is the active ingredient in medicines like Zyrtec and Betr’s All Day Allergy Relief. The onset of relief typically comes within an hour, and it relieves upper respiratory symptoms like sneezing and itching of the eyes and throat. It can also provide relief for hives, poison ivy or poison oak, or mosquito bites. While cetirizine is a non-drowsy antihistamine, it may still cause drowsiness in some people.
- Loratadine is another great antihistamine option. It does have a slower reaction time and can sometimes take up to three hours, but has plenty of staying power. This allows you to plan your effectiveness accordingly. It’s a great choice for those that need to be busy all day. Loratadine is the active ingredient in medicines like Claritin.
All-Day Nasal Sprays
Nasal sprays make direct contact with the allergen and flushes it away. It is often considered the best allergy relief medication when used consistently, but it can take a few days for it to take full effect.
- Fluticasone is a corticosteroid that is sprayed into the nostrils. It’s used to help reduce inflammation and reduce allergy symptoms or rhinitis. Some allergy sufferers may feel uncomfortable at first spraying liquid into the nasal cavity, but nasal sprays have many benefits—they act fast in the nose where an allergen might first lodge itself and can prevent a full-blown allergy attack. And if you are worried about side effects, know that a corticosteroid is not the same as anabolic steroids, and they have been deemed safe for long-term use. Fluticasone is the active ingredient in nasal sprays like Flonase and Betr’s Allergy Relief Nasal Spray.
These medications work to eliminate your allergy symptoms and help you sleep.
- When taken orally, this first-generation antihistamine quickly works to combat hay fever symptoms, as well as hives and itchy mosquito bites. When used topically, it also provides relief from pain and itching from insect bites, poison ivy, and poison sumac. Diphenhydramine is an excellent choice for nighttime relief because it is known to cause drowsiness, and can help you relieve symptoms and get a great night’s sleep. Diphenhydramine is the active ingredient in medicines like Benadryl and Betr’s Nighttime Allergy Relief.
It is always best to consult your doctor before you embark on an allergy treatment, since some medicines you may be considering do not mix well with others. There are also side-effects your doctor can talk you through, especially if you need the medications for long-term use.
Regardless of which medicine you choose, you can also try these tactics:
- Keep house or apartment windows closed.
- Stay indoors in the morning hours when flower and tree buds bloom.
- Vacuum the house daily to keep pollen or mold spores tracked in from outside to a minimum.
- Upgrade your HVAC air filters or use a standalone HEPA system—and keep the filters clean. Manufacturers recommend cleaning or changing filters every 30 to 60 days during high allergy season.
- Change your clothing and wash your face and hair as often as possible. Pollen and spores settle anywhere, especially your hair.
- Wear a cap or sun hat to keep from getting dust and pollen into your eyes.
- Wear glasses as a protective shield from allergens instead of contact lenses. Eye drops cannot be used with contact lenses.
Sometimes it does feel like you have to change your entire lifestyle to combat debilitating allergy symptoms. With a little pre-planning and some research, you can educate yourself on the right medications for you so you feel less anxious and more empowered. There may not be cures for allergies, but there are certainly enough medications that can keep the allergic reaction at bay and make them more tolerable for everyday living.
Nasal sprays comparison
Cleaning air filters
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