A variety of medications to treat seasonal and nasal allergies (to pollen, dust and animal dander, for example) are available over the counter (OTC) and by prescription in pill or liquid form and as nasal sprays and injections. Topical medications, medicated nasal sprays or drops, and eye drops can help control allergy symptoms, such as hives, rashes, nasal congestion and red, itchy, irritated eyes. Depending on your medical history, the type and severity of allergies and your tolerance of different drugs, you may prefer one medication over another.
Antihistimine medications are taken in advance to stop allergy symptoms before they start. They prevent the sneezing, runny nose and itching associated with the onset of most allergic reactions.
OTC brands of antihistamines include Dimetane, Chlor-Trimeton, Tavist, Benadryl, Claritin and Zyrtec. Prescription-strength antihistimines include azatadine (brand name Optimine), fexofenadine (brand name Allegra) and hydroxyzine (brand names Atarax and Vistaril).
Decongestants relieve the inflammation, swelling and mucus production that can occur in the nose when an allergic reaction is triggered and can make it difficult to breathe easily.
Pseudoephedrine is commonly the active ingredient in OTC decongestant tablets. Brands include Drixoral Non-Drowsy and Sudafed.
Decongestant nasal sprays and nose drops may contain one of several medications in varying amounts. The active ingredient in Vicks Vatronol, for example, is ephedrine. The active ingredient in Dristan Fast-Acting, Vicks Sinus and Neo-Synephrine is phenylephrine. The active ingredient in Afrin, Dristan Long-Acting, Vicks Sinex Long Lasting and Neo-Synephrine maximum-strength sprays and drops is oxymetazoline.
Since antihistamines do not relieve congestion, several allergy medicines combine the active ingredients of both antihistamines and decongestants into a single medication.
OTC brand names of antihistimine-decongestant combinations include Actifed, Allerest, Benadryl Decongestant, Chlor-Trimetron, Contac, Drixoral Cold and Allergy, Sudafed Plus, Tavist-D and Zyrtec-D. Allegra-D combines pseudoephedrine with fexofenadine, and Claritin-D combines pseudoephedrine with loratadine.
Prescription-strength corticosteroid nasal sprays and drops are most often used when antihistamine and decongestant medications fail to relieve allergy symptoms. Corticosteroids stop inflammation and relieve swelling and congestion, as well as other nasal symptoms. It can take several days for intranasal corticosteroids to kick in, but they are ultimately very effective medications.
In particularly severe cases, oral and injectable corticosteroids are used to control allergies. In this form, however, corticosteroids are very powerful drugs and can only be used in the short term.
Anyone with severe allergies, such as food or insect-bite allergies, must carry an autoinjector, such as EpiPen, which is a syringe filled with epinephrine that can be self-administered when allergy symptoms start to develop. When delivered by injection, epinephrine acts almost immediately to reduce swelling and hives, allow easier breathing, stimulate the heart and buy time until medical assistance is available.
Cromolyn sodium (brand name Nasalcrom) is an OTC anti-inflammatory nasal spray used alone or in conjunction with other allergy medications to prevent symptoms before they occur or to treat existing symptoms. Like corticosteroids, cromolyn sodium must build up over the course of several days and is used often and continually until the allergen is no longer present.
Non-medicated OTC saline nasal sprays and eye drops that contain antihistamines and anti-inflammatory medications are also available to use along with standard medications to further relieve symptoms of everyday allergies.