Drugs to Treat Allergy Symptoms (2023)

In general, there is no cure for allergies, but there are several types of medications available -- both over-the-counter and prescription -- to help ease and treat annoying symptoms like congestion and runny nose. These allergy drugs include antihistamines, decongestants, combination drugs, corticosteroids, and others.

Immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots or pills under the tongue, which gradually increase your ability to tolerate allergens, are also available.


Antihistamines have been used for years to treat allergy symptoms. They can be taken as pills, liquids, nasal sprays, or eye drops. Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamine eye drops can relieve red itchy eyes, while nasal sprays can be used to treat the symptoms of seasonal or year-round allergies.

Examples of Antihistamines:

  • Over-the-counter: Cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), levocetirizine (Xyzal), and loratadine (Alavert, Claritin) are taken by mouth. Brompheniramine (Dimetapp allergy, Nasahist B), chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), clemastine (Tavist), and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can make you drowsy.Ketotifen (Zaditor) and naphazoline and pheniramine combination ophthalmic (OcuHist) are eye drops.
  • Prescription: Desloratadine (Clarinex) is a medication taken by mouth. Azelastine nasal (Astelin) is a nasal spray. Eye drops include azelastine ophthalmic (Optivar), epinastine ophthalmic (Elestat), and olopatadine ophthalmic (Patanol).

How Do Antihistamines Work?

When you are exposed to an allergen -- for example, ragweed pollen -- it triggers your immune system. People with allergies have an exaggerated immune response. Immune system cells known as mast cells release a substance called histamine, which attaches to receptors in blood vessels, causing them to enlarge. Histamine also binds to other receptors causing redness, swelling, itching, and changes in secretions. By blocking histamine and keeping it from binding to receptors, antihistamines prevent these symptoms.

What Are the Side Effects of Antihistamines?

Many older over-the-counter antihistamines cause drowsiness. Newer antihistamines that don’t make you drowsy are available over-the-counter and by prescription. Because some antihistamines can slow your reaction time, make it hard to focus or think clearly, and may cause mild confusion even if you don't feel drowsy, they may affect your ability to drive a car or operate heavy machinery.

Other side effects of antihistamines may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty peeing
  • Headache
  • Feeling tired


Decongestants relieve congestion and are often prescribed along with antihistamines for allergies. They can come in nasal sprays, eye drops, liquids, and pills.

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Nasal spray and eye drop decongestants should be used for only a few days at a time because long-term use can make symptoms worse. Pills and liquid decongestants can be taken longer safely.

Examples of OTC Decongestants:

  • Pseudoephedrine (Sudafed tablets or liquid)
  • Phenylephrine (Neo-Synephrine) and oxymetazoline (Afrin) nasal sprays
  • Some Visine eye drops

How Do Decongestants Work?

During an allergic reaction, tissues in your nose may swell in response to contact with the allergen. That swelling makes fluid and mucus. Blood vessels in the eyes can also swell, causing redness. Decongestants work by shrinking swollen nasal tissues and blood vessels, relieving the symptoms of nasal swelling, congestion, mucus secretion, and redness.

What Are the Side Effects of Decongestants?

Decongestants may raise blood pressure, so they typically are not recommended for people who have blood pressure problems or glaucoma. They may also cause insomnia or irritability and restrict urinary flow.

Other possible side effects include:

  • Irritation of the lining of your nose
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart palpitations

Combination Allergy Drugs

Some allergy drugs contain both an antihistamine and a decongestant to relieve multiple allergy symptoms. Other drugs have multiple effects aside from just blocking the effects of histamine, such as preventing mast cells from releasing other allergy-inducing chemicals.

Examples of Combination Allergy Medicines:

  • Over-the-counter: cetirizineandpseudoephedrine (Zyrtec-D), fexofenadineandpseudoephedrine (Allegra-D), diphenhydramine and pseudoephedrine (Benadryl Allergy and Sinus), loratadine and pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D), andpseudoephedrine/triprolidine (Actifed) for nasal allergies; and naphazoline/pheniramine (Naphcon A) for allergic conjunctivitis
  • Prescription: acrivastine and pseudoephedrine (Semprex-D) for nasal allergies; azelastine/fluticasone (Dymista) combines a steroid in a nasal spray for seasonal nasal allergies

Anticholinergic Nasal Sprays

The drug ipratropium bromide (Atrovent) can reduce runny nose. When sprayed into each nostril, it lessens mucus from the glands lining the nasal passages.

What Are the Side Effects of Anticholinergic Nasal Sprays?

They may cause a very dry nose, leading to nosebleeds or irritation. Other side effects include headaches, stuffy nose, upset stomach, and sore throat.


Steroids, known medically as corticosteroids, can reduce inflammation associated with allergies. They prevent and treat nasal stuffiness, sneezing, and itchy, runny nose due to seasonal or year-round allergies. They can also decrease inflammation and swelling from other types of allergic reactions.

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Steroids are available in various forms: as pills or liquids for serious allergies or asthma, locally acting inhalers for asthma, locally acting nasal sprays for seasonal or year-round allergies, topical creams for skin allergies, or topical eye drops for allergic conjunctivitis. In addition to steroid medications, your doctor may decide to prescribe additional types of medications to help combat your allergic symptoms.

Steroids are highly effective drugs for allergies, but they must be taken regularly, often daily, to be of benefit -- even when you aren't feeling allergy symptoms. In addition, it may take 1 to 2 weeks before the full effect of the medicine can be felt.

Exapmples of Steroids:

  • Prescription nasal steroids: beclomethasone (Beconase, Qnasl, Qvar), ciclesonide (Alvesco, Omnaris, Zetonna), fluticasone furoate (Veramyst), and mometasone (Nasonex)
  • Over-the-counter nasal steroids: budesonide (Rhinocort Allergy), fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief), and triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24HR)
  • Eye drops: dexamethasone ophthalmic (Maxidex) and loteprednol ophthalmic (Alrex)
  • Oral steroids: prednisone (Deltasone)

What Are the Side Effects of Steroids?

Steroids have many potential side effects, especially when taken for a long time.

Side effects of systemic steroids with short-term use include:

  • Weight gain
  • Fluid retention
  • High blood pressure

Side effects with long-term use include:

  • Growth suppression
  • Diabetes
  • Cataracts of the eyes
  • Bone-thinning osteoporosis
  • Muscle weakness

Side effects of inhaled steroids may include cough, hoarseness, or fungal infections of the mouth.

Mast Cell Stabilizers

Mast cell stabilizers treat mild to moderate inflammation.

Mast cell stabilizers are available as eye drops for allergic conjunctivitis and nasal sprays for nasal allergy symptoms. Like with many drugs, it may take several weeks before the full effects are felt.

Examples of Mast Cell Stabilizers:

  • Cromolyn sodium (Opticrom)
  • Lodoxamide-tromethamine (Alomide)
  • Nedocromil (Alocril)
  • Pemirolast (Alamast)

How Do Mast Cell Stabilizers Work?

Mast cell stabilizers prevent the release of histamine from mast cells (cells that make and store histamine). Some of these drugs also have important anti-inflammatory effects, but typically they are not as effective as steroids.

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What Are the Side Effects of Mast Cell Stabilizers?

Throat irritation, coughing, or skin rashes sometimes happen. Mast cell stabilizers in the form of eye drops may cause burning, stinging, or blurred vision.

Leukotriene Modifiers

Leukotriene modifiers treat asthma and nasal allergy symptoms. They can be prescribed along with other drugs.

These medications are available only with a doctor's prescription and come as pills, chewable tablets, and oral granules.

The only leukotriene modifier that has FDA approval to treat allergic rhinitis is montelukast (Singulair). Montelukast, as well as zafirlukast (Accolate) and zileuton (Zyflo), are also FDA-approved to treat asthma.

How Do Leukotriene Modifiers Work?

Leukotriene modifiers block the effects of leukotrienes, chemicals produced in the body in response to an allergic reaction.

What Are the Side Effects of Leukotriene Modifiers?

Side effects of these drugs are rare but may include:

  • Stomach pain or stomach upset
  • Heartburn
  • Fever
  • Stuffy nose
  • Cough
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Irritability

Other Over-the-Counter Products

Some simple over-the-counter products can help with allergy symptoms. They include:

  • Saltwater solution, or saline, is available as a nasal spray to relieve mild congestion, loosen mucus, and prevent crusting. These sprays contain no medicine.
  • Artificial tears, which also contain no medicine, are available to treat itchy, watery, and red eyes.


Immunotherapy may be one of the most effective forms of treatment if you suffer from allergies more than 3 months of the year. Allergy shots expose you to gradually increasing levels of the offending allergen to help your immune system build tolerance.

The FDA has approved several under-the-tongue immunotherapy tablets that can be taken at home. The prescription tablets, called Grastek, Oralair, and Ragwitek, treat hay fever and work the same way as shots. The goal is to boost a patient’s tolerance of allergy triggers. Odactra is an under-the-tongue medication that can relieve symptoms of allergies to dust mites. Palforzia treats peanut allergy.

Drugs to Treat Allergy Symptoms (1) © 2023 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Show Sources


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

News release, FDA.

News release, Sanofi-aventis U.S.

UpToDate.com. “Patient information: Allergic rhinitis (seasonal allergies) (Beyond the Basics),” "Oral and sublingual immunotherapy for allergic rhinitis."

RxList: "Atrovent HFA."

American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology: "Allergy Treatment," "Sublingual Immunotherapy."

NHS: "Antihistamines."

Cleveland Clinic: "Leukotriene Modifiers."

(Video) Allergic Rhinitis - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, pathology


Drugs to Treat Allergy Symptoms? ›

Antihistamines are a class of drugs commonly used to treat symptoms of allergies. These drugs help treat conditions caused by too much histamine, a chemical created by your body's immune system. Antihistamines are most commonly used by people who have allergic reactions to pollen and other allergens.

What type of drug is used to treat allergy symptoms? ›

Antihistamines are a class of drugs commonly used to treat symptoms of allergies. These drugs help treat conditions caused by too much histamine, a chemical created by your body's immune system. Antihistamines are most commonly used by people who have allergic reactions to pollen and other allergens.

What do doctors usually prescribe for allergies? ›

  • Brompheniramine-pseudoephedrine (Brotapp, Rynex PSE)
  • Cetirizine-pseudoephedrine (ZyrTEC-D Allergy & Congestion)
  • Chlorpheniramine-pseudoephedrine (SudoGest)
  • Fexofenadine-pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D)
  • Loratadine-pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D, Alavert Allergy and Sinus)

What does Singulair do for allergies? ›

Montelukast works to help improve symptoms of asthma and allergic rhinitis by blocking substances in the body that may cause them. Montelukast was first approved by FDA in 1998. It is marketed under the brand name Singulair and as generics.

Is Claritin or Zyrtec better for allergies? ›

Studies have shown equal effectiveness for Zyrtec and Claritin for allergic rhinitis and urticaria. Studies have not compared the effects of Zyrtec and Claritin for conditions such as postnasal drip, but research suggests intranasal antihistamines such as azelastine are more effective.

Which is strongest antihistamine? ›

Cetirizine is the most potent antihistamine available and has been subjected to more clinical study than any other.

Is Benadryl or Zyrtec better for allergic reaction? ›

Cetirizine (Zyrtec) works well for allergies and usually causes less side effects like sleepiness than some other antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

What is the best medicine for severe seasonal allergies? ›

Antihistamines can help relieve sneezing, itching, a stuffy or runny nose, and watery eyes. Examples of oral antihistamines include cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy), fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy) and loratadine (Claritin, Alavert). Corticosteroid nasal sprays. These medications improve nasal symptoms.

Why was Zyrtec taken off the market? ›

Sandoz issued a voluntary recall of 1,023,430 units of Zyrtec (10 mg) capsules as a result of failed impurities and a specification being reported for impurity at the 21-month stability time point, according to an FDA Enforcement Report.

What is the strongest natural antihistamine? ›

The 4 Best Natural Antihistamines
  • Antihistamines.
  • Stinging nettle.
  • Quercetin.
  • Bromelain.
  • Butterbur.
Jan 3, 2020

Can doctors prescribe something stronger for allergies? ›

Some allergy sufferers might need a doctor to prescribe a stronger dosage. “All medicines have side effects – like drowsiness, for example,” says Dr. Menkes.

Does Singulair replace Claritin? ›

Are Singulair and Claritin the Same Thing? Singulair (montelukast) and Claritin (loratadine) are used to treat allergy symptoms. Singulair is also used to treat asthma and to prevent exercise-induced narrowing of the airways. Singulair and Claritin belong to different drug classes.

Are Claritin and Singulair the same? ›

The active ingredients of Claritin is loratadine and the active ingredient of Singulair is montelukast sodium. Both drugs are indicated for the relief of symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis and perennial allergic rhinitis, the two drug companies said in a statement.

Who should not take Singulair? ›

You should not use montelukast if you are allergic to it. Tell your doctor if you have ever had: mental illness or psychosis; or. asthma, or a history of severe allergic reaction (sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, wheezing, shortness of breath) after taking aspirin or another NSAID.

What's the best antihistamine for post nasal drip? ›

Fexofenadine (brand Allegra) and loratadine (brand Claritin) are good second-generation antihistamines that are non-sedating and could be good for mild to moderate postnasal drip symptoms.

What is stronger than Claritin for allergies? ›

Zyrtec is found to be more potent, or stronger, in laboratory studies, compared with Claritin,” says Dr. Kung. “It also reaches a higher concentration in the skin, which can be more helpful for skin-related allergies. However, Zyrtec has a greater chance of making you sleepy while taking it.”

What allergy medicine is good for nasal drip? ›

Azelastine (Astelin, Astepro) is an intranasal antihistamine that can reduce nasal congestion and runny nose. It may cause sleepiness. But when it's taken with intranasal steroids, it works very well for postnasal drip. Ipratropium (Atrovent) works by stopping the production of mucus.

What is the fastest acting antihistamine for allergies? ›

Cetirizine has the fastest onset of action among the newer antihistamines.

What is the safest antihistamine to take daily? ›

Allergists recommend long-acting, non-sedating antihistamines — ones that won't make you sleepy — for everyday use. Though you may know them by their brand names, the generic versions tackle the same problems: Cetirizine (Zyrtec®, Aller-Tec®, Wall-Zyr®). Fexofenadine (Allegra®, Aller-ease®, Aller-Fex®, Wal-Fex®).

What is the fastest acting antihistamine? ›

BENADRYL® Allergy Relief is the fastest-acting allergy relief capsule, it is the only brand to contain acrivastine a unique active ingredient. Acrivastine starts to work in 15 minutes providing fast relief.

Is Flonase an antihistamine? ›

FLONASE Nighttime Allergy Relief tablets uses a powerful antihistamine to relieve runny nose, sneezing, itchy nose or throat and itchy, watery eyes due to hay fever or allergic rhinitis for up to 6 hours.

Can I take Claritin in the morning and Zyrtec at night? ›

You should not take Claritin and Zyrtec together. Both Claritin and Zyrtec are antihistamines, and taking these medications together can increase the risk of side effects as well as overdose. In addition, you should avoid taking Zyrtec or Claritin with alcohol or any other sedative.

Does Zyrtec raise blood pressure? ›

Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) aren't known to raise blood pressure when used alone. Antihistamines are part of many combination over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products. They may be combined with a medication that can raise your blood pressure.

Why are my allergies so bad all of a sudden? ›

Often, people grow accustomed to the allergens in their area and develop a tolerance. If you have recently moved to a new state or region, then you are exposing yourself to new allergens that you did not grow up around, which may cause reactions.

How do doctors treat severe seasonal allergies? ›

Allergies are treated with avoidance of the allergen and with medications, including corticosteroids and intranasal or oral antihistamines. People who have severe symptoms despite these treatments may be able to benefit from sublingual immunotherapy.

What is the new medicine for allergies? ›

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today approved Odactra, the first allergen extract to be administered under the tongue (sublingually) to treat house dust mite (HDM)-induced nasal inflammation (allergic rhinitis), with or without eye inflammation (conjunctivitis), in people 18 through 65 years of age.

Why can't older people take Zyrtec? ›

First generation antihistamines, while very effective at controlling symptoms, are often associated with symptoms in older adults such as anxiety, confusion, sedation, blurred vision, reduced mental alertness, urinary retention and constipation.

Why is Benadryl no longer recommended? ›

Because of this difference, first-generation antihistamines like Benadryl are associated with more side effects such as increased drowsiness, issues with motor functions and working memory, as well as a risk of hallucination or even death in the event of an overdose.

What replaced Zyrtec? ›

Xyzal is one of the newer, third-generation antihistamines used to treat allergies.

What vitamins help allergies? ›

The combination of vitamins C & D are a dynamic duo when it comes to allergy season. If you or your family members have been suffering from allergy symptoms, try incorporating both of these immune-boosting and allergy-fighting nutrients into your daily routine.

How can I flush histamine out of my body? ›

Drinking plenty of water every day is essential for all bodily functions, including the regulation of histamine levels. Water does aid in the removal of histamines from the body as more that 95% of excess histamines are removed from the body through the urine.

What vitamin is a natural antihistamine? ›

There is evidence that vitamin C acts as a natural antihistamine and antioxidant and that it can help decrease inflammation and swelling at the site of an allergic reaction.

What is the best doctor recommended allergy medicine? ›

The Allegra Adult 24-Hour Allergy Relief easily tops our list thanks to the medicine's quick-acting formula to tackle your allergy symptoms any time of the day.

What happens if OTC allergy meds don't work? ›

If you feel like your allergy medication isn't working, talk to your healthcare provider about new allergy testing, and use an allergy tracker to help avoid triggers. You can also start your treatment before allergy season gets into full swing to help prevent symptoms from getting too serious.

Why are my allergies so bad even with medicine? ›

There can be various triggers, including environmental, such as pollution, changes in weather or cigarette smoke, or occupational, such as cleaning chemicals. Strong perfumes, colognes or fragrances can also trigger symptoms.

What is the #1 allergy pill? ›

Used For. From the #1 allergist-recommended brand among OTC oral antihistamines, Zyrtec Tablets contain 10 mg of Cetirizine HCI to help relieve indoor and outdoor allergy symptoms caused by dust, pet dander, and pollen.

Is Zyrtec or Allegra better? ›

Several studies have found cetirizine (Zyrtec) to be more effective than fexofenadine (Allegra) at relieving symptoms of allergic rhinitis and urticaria, and it appears to have a longer duration of action.

Is Claritin or Allegra better? ›

Allegra is less likely to make you drowsy. Zyrtec and Allegra work faster than Claritin. All three work well to treat hives and symptoms of hay fever, such as itchy skin and eyes and post-nasal drip.

What is the safest allergy pill to take daily? ›

Claritin and Zyrtec are popular over-the-counter antihistamines. Doctors consider them safe and effective treatments for minor allergies. Both are second-generation antihistamines. These cause less drowsiness than first-generation antihistamines.

Why is Claritin better than Zyrtec? ›

Loratadine (Claritin) typically causes less side effects like sleepiness than some other antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and possibly cetirizine (Zyrtec). Cetirizine (Zyrtec) is an over-the-counter antihistamine medication used to relieve allergy symptoms.

Can Benadryl help with allergies? ›

BENADRYL® can be used to help relieve allergy symptoms caused by many different types of common allergens.

Who should not use Zyrtec? ›

You should not use Zyrtec-D if you have narrow-angle glaucoma, severe high blood pressure (hypertension), severe coronary artery disease, if you are unable to urinate, or if you are allergic to hydroxyzine (Atarax, Vistaril). Do not use this medicine if you have taken an MAO inhibitor in the past 14 days.

Is it better to take Zyrtec at night or in the morning? ›

What's the best time of day to take ZYRTEC®? Any time of day works. And ZYRTEC® will continue to work for 24 hours.

Does Flonase work better than Allegra? ›

Unlike Allegra® Allergy, FLONASE relieves your most bothersome symptom–nasal congestion–plus itchy, watery eyes, itchy nose, runny nose, and sneezing.

What antihistamine is stronger than Claritin? ›

Zyrtec is found to be more potent, or stronger, in laboratory studies, compared with Claritin,” says Dr. Kung. “It also reaches a higher concentration in the skin, which can be more helpful for skin-related allergies. However, Zyrtec has a greater chance of making you sleepy while taking it.”

Does Allegra raise blood pressure? ›

However, medicines containing decongestants — including Allegra-D, Zyrtec-D and Claritin-D — could increase your blood pressure and heart rate or interfere with your heart medication.

What is the safest allergy medicine for seniors? ›

So what can older adults safely take for allergy relief? Wozniak: Newer antihistamines such as Claritin® (loratadine) and Allegra® (fexofenadine) tend to be safer and better tolerated.

Is Flonase good for allergies? ›

FLONASE helps relieve a broad range of symptoms from many allergens. FLONASE helps with outdoor allergens such as weed pollen, grass pollen, tree pollen, and mold spores. It also helps with indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust mites, and mold.


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