What Should I Take for Seasonal Allergies?

Dealing with the symptoms of seasonal allergies — sneezing, runny nose, stuffy nose, and itchy, watery eyes — is never any fun. It’s enough to make you want to move somewhere else.

For most people, though, moving isn’t a practical solution. Instead, your best bet for relief is taking medicine for seasonal allergies.

What Seasonal Allergy Medicine Should I Take?

When you have seasonal allergies, your immune system responds to certain substances by releasing chemicals known as histamines. In the case of seasonal allergies, pollen is often the trigger. Histamines are the chemicals that cause your allergy symptoms.

Several over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can help manage your seasonal allergy symptoms. “Most allergy medications are OTC, but if you have chronic medical conditions for which you are prescribed daily medication, I recommend discussing allergy treatment with your PCP to ensure it is safe,” says Sidra Chavla, MD, UPMC Family Medicine South. You should talk to your doctor about which OTC medicines make the most sense for you. If you take other medications or have other health issues, one OTC allergy medicine may be better for you than others.

One of the most common medications to treat allergies are antihistamines. They treat allergy symptoms by blocking histamine. They come in tablets, liquids, nasal sprays, and eye drops.

Some antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl), can cause you to feel drowsy or sleepy. Antihistamines that don’t cause you to feel as drowsy or sleepy include:

  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec).
  • Desloratadine (Clarinex).
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra),
  • Loratadine (Claritin).

Talk to your doctor before taking antihistamines if you have the following conditions:

  • Diabetes.
  • Heart disease.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Enlarged prostate or problems passing urine.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Increased eye pressure known as glaucoma.
  • Overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism.

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How to Take Allergy Medication

For best results, start taking allergy medications two weeks before the start of allergy season where you live. For most people, that means sometime in February.

Follow the direction on the label and don’t take more than you recommended in a 24-hour period. Some allergy medicines last 24 hours. Some last only four to six hours.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may want to take your allergy medication every day during allergy season. Some people only need to take allergy medicine when they are having symptoms.

Take your allergy medication at bedtime to help you feel better in the morning. Seasonal allergy symptoms are often worst between 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Don’t drink alcohol while taking antihistamines. Alcohol can increase your risk of feeling drowsy.

What Can I Take If I’m Pregnant?

Some 10% to 15% of women report taking antihistamines during pregnancy.

Most antihistamines used to treat allergies and asthma are safe to take during pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They don’t appear to increase the risk of birth defects. These medicines are:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
  • Loratadine (Claritin).
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec).

If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor before taking any medication, including allergy medication.

When Should I See a Doctor for Seasonal Allergies?

For some people, seasonal allergies can worsen over time. You may find that OTC medicines no longer work to control your symptoms. You may need prescription allergy medicine to treat and prevent seasonal allergies.

More than two-thirds of people who have spring allergies experience symptoms all year. See an allergist — an expert in managing allergy symptoms — if you feel like you’re getting sick with a cough or head congestion. They can help find out what’s causing your symptoms and find ways to stop it from happening.

Key Findings: Antihistamines and Birth Defects. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

Common Seasonal Allergy Triggers. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Link.

Antihistamines for Allergies. MedlinePlus.gov. Link.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.