Learn About The Best Choices For Allergy Relief
Allegra , Claritin , or Zyrtec are over-the-counter antihistamines used to treat allergies. Second-generation antihistamines relieve allergy symptoms like congestion, hives , and itching without drowsiness.
Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec are used to treat common allergies like pollens, pet dander, or dust mites. The drugs may seem interchangeable, but there are some differences that may make one the better choice for you.
This article compares Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec. It explains their similarities and differences, how quickly each antihistamine begins to work, and potential side effects. In addition, it details which allergy medications are safe to use in pregnancy.
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin
Which Allergy Medications Can You Mix
Depending on your symptoms, some allergy medications can be safe to use in combination. Generally, you can use an antihistamine with a decongestant .
However, you dont want to double up allergy medications. For example, you generally wouldnt want to take Claritin in the morning and Zyrtec in the evening .
RELATED: Zyrtec vs. Claritin
A Doctors Guide To Choosing Allergy Medicine Wisely
Allergies can pop up throughout the year. You may be tempted to grab the closest antihistamine medicine to fend off your itchy eyes, sneezing, or a runny nose. Before you do, make sure the medicine wont do more harm than good.
There are different types of antihistamines, and some are better than others depending on your age, health, and other medications you take.
Older formulas work, but beware of side effects and bad interactions
Doctors often refer to the first type of antihistamines that were on the market as first-generation. They are great at treating allergy symptoms. Unfortunately, in some people, they can result in side effects like anxiety, confusion, feeling sleepy, blurred vision, reduced mental alertness, urinary retention and constipation. These effects are more common for anyone taking certain antidepressant medications.
Ingredients of first-generation antihistamines include brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, dimenhydrinate, diphenhydramine and doxylamine. Ask a pharmacist to help you compare products and read the labels if the print is too small. Some of the brand names for these products include Dimetapp Cold & Allergy, Chlor-Trimeton, Tavist, Benadryl, Vicks NyQuil and Tylenol Cold and Cough Nighttime.
The labels should also include warnings that people with certain medical conditions should not take first-generation antihistamines. Ask your doctor before use if you have:
- high blood pressure
Another option nasal steroid sprays
Recommended Reading: Allergy Eye Drops Safe For Pregnancy
Path To Improved Health
You can take antihistamines in different ways depending on your symptoms. Some people take them only when they have symptoms. Others experience symptoms every day, so they take the antihistamine every day. Sometimes people take them before they are going to be exposed to something they are allergic to. This could include an animal or certain kinds of plants or flowers.
There are many different brands of antihistamines that you can buy over the counter. Some work in different ways. For example, some are designed to work for 4 to 6 hours. Others last for 12 to 24 hours. Make sure you read the label carefully. Follow the directions for how often to take the antihistamine.
Ask your doctor which OTC antihistamine is best for you based on your symptoms.
If you have severe allergies or allergies that affect you year-round, tell you doctor. It could be that you need a prescription allergy medication. The difference between these at OTCs is that prescription antihistamines can come in higher doses.
When To Call A Doctor
If you find that you are getting sick frequently or are regularly experiencing symptoms like coughing, congestion, or difficulty breathing, you may want to talk with your doctor.
You should also consider consulting your doctor if you feel that your allergies are interfering with your daily life or if OTC medications are no longer able to help you manage your symptoms.
Your allergist can help you develop a plan tailored to your needs and evaluate which treatment method is right for you.
Recommended Reading: Food Allergy Vs Food Intolerance
Who Shouldnt Take Allergy Medications
Non-sedating antihistamines are relatively safe for most patients, but you should not take older antihistamines if you have prostate problems or glaucoma. You should not take decongestants if you have high blood pressure. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, consult a healthcare professional before using allergy medications .
What Are The Risks Of Allergic Rhinitis And Allergic Asthma
Allergic rhinitis can affect your health if you don’t treat it. You may have problems such as sinus infections, plugged ears or ear infections, and sinusitis .
If you don’t control allergic asthma, it increases your risk of problems from lung and airway infections, such as bronchitis
When you get immunotherapy in the form of allergy shots, your allergist or doctor injects small doses of substances that you are allergic to under your skin. Over time, this decreases your reaction to the allergen and may reduce the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Allergy shots are available for allergies to:
- Pollen .
- Animal dander .
- Mold .
Sublingual immunotherapy may be another way to treat certain pollen allergies. Instead of getting shots, you dissolve a tablet under your tongue daily. Each tablet has a small amount of allergen in it. This treatment, like allergy shots, helps your body “get used to” the allergen, so your body reacts less to it over time. Talk to your doctor if you have a pollen allergy and you want to know more about this treatment.
If You Have Allergies Not Related To Vaccines
CDC recommends that people get vaccinated even if they have a history of severe allergic reactions not related to vaccines or injectable medicationssuch as food, pet, venom, environmental, or latex allergies. People with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of severe allergic reactions may also get vaccinated.
To find COVID-19 vaccine locations near you: Search vaccines.gov, text your ZIP code to 438829, or call 1-800-232-0233.
How To Prevent An Allergy Cough
While you can’t always avoid respiratory allergies, you can reduce the frequency of them by taking a few precautionary measures.
- Identify and avoid triggers:Start by keeping an allergy diary, taking note of where you were and everything you did up to the time of an allergic reaction. Over time, you may see a pattern emerging and identify which allergens are at the heart of your symptoms.
- Watch the weather: If you have hay fever, watch local weather reports to see when pollen or mold levels are high. Windy days also increase the amount of allergens in the air, increasing your chances of an allergy attack.
- Time your activities: During allergy season, pollen levels tend to be higher in the morning. Plan your outdoor activities during the evening if possible.
- Clean your environment: Allergies to dust and pet dander can be reduced by keeping your environment clean. Replace air filters frequently, and keep pets out of your bedroom. You should also vacuum after your pet has been on rugs or furniture.
Personal Stories About Taking Allergy Shots
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
I bought my daughter, Tina, a cat for her birthday. A month or so later, I developed allergy symptoms that I have never had before: sneezing puffy, irritated eyes and feeling tired. I thought maybe I was allergic to a detergent or soap, but my doctor did some tests, and it turns out I am allergic to the cat. I know it would break my daughter’s heart to have to find a new home for the cat, and I have gotten attached to it, too. I decided to try getting the allergy shots and do what I can to keep the cat hair and dander out of my bedroom.
Lynn, age 42
For as long as I can remember, I have had bad hay fever. I have had tests to find out just what kind of pollen I am allergic to, and it turns out that I am allergic to several different kinds. I have learned over the years that my symptoms will get worse at certain times of the year, and I try to avoid being exposed to pollen during those times. My doctor and I also have spent a lot of time finding out which antihistamines and allergy medicines work for me without a lot of side effects. I feel like I manage my allergies well, so I’m not going to have the shots from my doctor or use tablets that dissolve under my tongue.
Kenny, age 44
Jorge, age 30
Sara, age 33
Kathy, age 28
John, age 19
If You Are Allergic To Polyethylene Glycol Or Polysorbate
PEG and polysorbate are closely related to each other. However,
- PEG is an ingredient in the mRNA vaccines. If you are allergic to PEG, you should not get an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
- Polysorbate is an ingredient in Novavax and J& J/Janssen vaccines. If you are allergic to polysorbate, you should not Novavax or J& J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine. Ask your doctor if you can get an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
Difficulty Breathing Or Throat Swelling
Dont delay getting medical attention for anaphylaxis, which is when allergic reactions take a severe turn. Dial 911 and do it ASAP.
Calling 911 is better than driving to the emergency department, says Dr. Kapil. Emergency medical technicians in an ambulance have protocols and access to treatments specifically for severe allergic reactions.
In addition, many people with potentially life-threatening allergies carry an injector that can deliver a dose of epinephrine . This shot of adrenaline typically delivered in your thigh can help reverse severe allergic reactions while you await medical care.
Use the epinephrine injector if a reaction is serious. Your or someones life may depend on taking quick action.
Food allergies are the most common trigger of anaphylaxis. Severe reactions also can be brought on insect stings, latex or medications.
An allergic reaction that makes it difficult to breathe can create a sense of impending doom, says Dr. Kapil. Understand that an anaphylactic reaction can be an intense situation. Its important to remain calm.
Is It Safe To Take Otc Allergy Medications Every Day
Generally, yesthough you should consult with your healthcare provider for guidance. Nasal steroid sprays may take a few weeks to become effective. If you have occasional symptoms, it is okay to take antihistamines as needed, following the package directions.
If your allergy symptoms persist, you may have a sinus infection. Sinusitis treatments are similar to allergy treatments but in some cases, a provider may prescribe corticosteroids or antibiotics.
What Should I Expect During An Allergy Test
The purpose of skin tests is to see how your body responds to allergens. If you have an allergic reaction, youll develop a reaction at the site of the test. Rarely patients may have mild allergy symptoms such as itchy skin, watery eyes and congestion. Most symptoms clear up in one to two hours after the test, the redness or wheals may remain for several more hours.
How To Treat An Allergy Cough
Oral antihistamines are the first-line treatment for allergy symptoms, blocking the underlying mechanisms that can lead to an allergy cough.
Second-generation antihistamines are the preferred option because they are less likely to cause drowsiness. With that said, first-generation antihistamines like Benadryl may be a good option before bedtime if allergy symptoms are interfering with sleep.
To treat the cough itself, you can consider the following options:
- Take an over-the-counter expectorant like Mucinex to loosen phlegm.
- Use an over-the-counter decongestant Sudafed to open nasal passages.
- Use a nasal steroid spray like Nasacort to relieve inflammation and ease breathing,
- Suck on a cough lozenge, especially ones containing eucalyptus.
- Use a saline nasal spray or irrigation, like a neti pot, to clear nasal passages.
- Use a humidifier or vaporizer to help moisturize the air.
- Inhale steam either with a commercial inhaler or a heated pot of water to loosen mucus and ease throat irritation.
Natural Remedies For Allergic Reactions
Many traditional medicine systems use herbal supplements and extracts to both treat and prevent allergic reactions, especially seasonal allergies.
Though there is little scientific evidence to support the use of most alternative or natural remedies, some people may find that some can provide relief from their symptoms.
The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians recommend the following natural treatments for allergies:
- Dietary changes. A low-fat diet high in complex carbohydrates, such as beans, whole grains, and vegetables may reduce allergy reactions.
- Bioflavonoids. These plant-based chemicals found in citrus fruits and blackcurrants may act as natural antihistamines. These can also be taken as supplements.
- Supplements. Flaxseed oil, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and E are suggested to improve allergy symptoms.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture treatments may help some people to find relief from their symptoms.
A very severe allergic reaction can lead to a condition called anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock.
Anaphylaxis occurs when the bodys immune response to an allergen is so severe and sudden that the body goes into a state of shock.
Anaphylaxis can impact multiple organs and if left untreated lead to coma, organ failure, and death.
The early symptoms of anaphylaxis can be fairly mild and similar to those of minor to moderate allergic reactions, but they often rapidly worsen.
Symptoms unique to anaphylaxis include:
First aid for anaphylaxis includes:
When To See A Healthcare Provider
An allergy cough may be aggravating but is rarely severe. However, there are situations in which coughing and other breathing problems are a sign of potentially life-threatening, whole-body allergy known as anaphylaxis.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis tend to develop suddenly and severely. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to shock, coma, heart or respiratory failure, and death.
- Shortness of breath
- A sudden outbreak of hives or rash
- Feeling fainting or lightheaded
- Swelling of the face, neck, or throat
- A feeling of impending doom
Fighting Back Against Tiny Allergens Before They Strike Can Help You Avoid Or Reduce Symptoms
The spring allergy season begins next month, and if you want to avoid symptoms, you must act now. “Pretreating allergies will lead to better control of symptoms, and maybe prevent symptoms from showing up,” says Dr. Ahmad Sedaghat, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
How Do I Know If It’s Just Allergies
“Take your temperature. That’s probably a good first step, since coronavirus almost always includes a fever. If your temperature is normal, it is likely allergies,” says allergist Anu Kewalramani, MD an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
She adds, “Also, think about whether this happens to you every year. Come March and April, do you usually have itchy eyes and a runny nose?” If so, this may just be seasonal allergies acting up.
Mild Vs Severe Allergic Reactions
Nearly 8% of children in the United States have food allergies, and about 3% of them are age two and under. Witnessing a child having an adverse reaction can be frightening, but it’s important for parents to know what symptoms to watch for.
It can be as small as a skin rash, states Dr. Ganjian when asked about mild allergic reactions. It can look like hives, and it can appear 30 to 60 minutes within having a new food.
A young child may let you know something is wrong by pulling on their tongue or putting their fingers into their mouth. Symptoms can start suddenly, without any real warning.
How Do Allergy Shots Work
Allergy shots work by putting small amounts of insect venom into your body, making you less sensitive over time to the venom.
Getting a series of allergy shots can prevent a systemic allergic reaction or make it less severe. Allergy shots aren’t needed if you have a mild reaction, a large local reaction, or even a systemic reaction that only affects your skin. Only about 4 to 10 people out of 100 who have these kinds of reactions to insect stings go on to have a more serious, anaphylactic reaction.footnote 1 This means that 90 to 96 out of 100 people who have localized reactions don’t ever have an anaphylactic reaction to an insect sting.footnote 1
Allergy shots can greatly reduce your risk of having another life-threatening reaction if you’ve had one before. Imagine a group of 100 people who have had a life-threatening reaction. Without allergy shots, up to 60 of those 100 people will have another life-threatening reaction in the future. But if those 100 people get allergy shots, only 5 of them will have another life-threatening reaction.footnote 1 This treatment is most effective after an entire course of allergy shots is complete.
What Are The Side Effects Of Allergy Medicines
Weve already addressed some of the possible side effects of allergy medicines, but they bear repeating.
Of the three antihistamines, cetirizine is most likely to make you drowsy , with loratadine in second . If you want to be sure your allergy medication wont impair your everyday functioning, take it at night before you go to bed or take fexofenadine , which is the least likely to make you drowsy.
And you shouldnt take decongestants for more than a week or two in a row, or you put yourself at risk for heart issues.
Why Do Healthcare Providers Perform Allergy Tests
Your healthcare provider may perform an allergy test if you have allergy symptoms that bother you. Providers also perform allergy tests on people who have asthma. The test can identify allergy triggers that can worsen asthma symptoms or bring on an asthma attack.
You may also need a test if youve had a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This potentially life-threatening problem can cause hives or swelling, breathing difficulty and/or a sharp drop in blood pressure that brings on anaphylactic shock. Your health history along with allergy testing is used to determine the cause of severe reaction. If you have had an anaphylactic reaction or may be at risk for one, then you may need to carry an epinephrine auto-injector to treat the symptoms.