Antihistamines Explained: Types, Uses and Side Effects

Wyndly Care Team
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Which is the best antihistamine medicine?

The best antihistamine medicine is dependent on individual needs and symptom severity. However, over-the-counter options like Cetirizine (Zyrtec), Fexofenadine (Allegra), and Loratadine (Claritin) are commonly recommended. Prescription options include Levocetirizine (Xyzal) and Desloratadine (Clarinex). Always consult a healthcare provider before use.

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What Are Antihistamines?

Antihistamines are medications used to manage allergy symptoms. They function by blocking histamine, a substance produced by the body in reaction to allergens. Antihistamines can be categorized into different types, each with their unique benefits and side effects.

Antihistamines, as the name suggests, work against histamine, a chemical released during an allergic reaction. Histamine binds to its receptors in the body, triggering symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and a runny nose. By blocking these receptors, antihistamines help to alleviate these symptoms, providing temporary relief.

While antihistamines are generally safe for routine use, they do not address the root cause of allergies, unlike treatments like immunotherapy. It's also crucial to note that different types of antihistamines may have varying effectiveness and side effects, making it essential to choose the right one for your needs.

How Do Antihistamines Work?

Antihistamines work by blocking the action of histamine, a chemical that the body releases during an allergic reaction. They bind to histamine receptors, thus preventing histamine from triggering allergic symptoms. This action helps to provide relief from typical allergy symptoms like itching, sneezing, and a runny nose.

Role of Histamine and Its Receptors in Allergy and Inflammation

Histamine plays a crucial role in allergy and inflammation. When an allergen enters the body, it triggers the immune system to produce histamines. These histamines attach to their receptors on the surface of certain cells and cause typical allergic symptoms. Antihistamines work by blocking these histamine receptors, thus preventing histamines from triggering an allergic response.

Allergy Pretreatment

In some cases, antihistamines can be used as a form of allergy pretreatment. This means that they are taken before exposure to an allergen to prevent an allergic reaction. They help by blocking the histamine receptors in advance, so when the body releases histamines in response to an allergen, they have nowhere to attach and cause symptoms. This type of pretreatment is often used in cases where allergy exposure is predictable, such as during a known pollen season. It's important to note that while antihistamines can provide short-term relief, they do not address the root cause of allergies, unlike treatments like immunotherapy.

What Are the Different Types of Antihistamines Available?

There are several types of antihistamines available, each with unique properties and uses. They are broadly categorized into first-generation antihistamines and second-generation antihistamines. Both categories are effective in providing relief from allergy symptoms but differ in their side effect profiles and the duration of their action.

Differences Between Antihistamines

First-generation antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine, are older types of antihistamines. They are known for their sedative effects because they can cross the blood-brain barrier and interact with histamine receptors in the brain. They provide quick relief from allergy symptoms but need to be taken frequently due to their short half-life.

On the other hand, second-generation antihistamines like cetirizine and loratadine are less likely to cause drowsiness. They do not readily cross the blood-brain barrier, which reduces their sedative effects. These antihistamines also have a longer duration of action, requiring less frequent dosing. They are often the preferred choice for chronic allergies.

In addition to these, natural antihistamines are also becoming increasingly popular. They include substances like quercetin, bromelain, and probiotics, which may help to reduce mild allergy symptoms. However, their efficacy and safety profiles are not as well-studied as those of traditional antihistamines.

What Are Antihistamines Used For?

Antihistamines are primarily used for managing symptoms of allergies. They block the action of histamine, a substance produced by the body in response to allergens, thus providing relief from itching, sneezing, and runny nose. However, their use extends beyond allergy management.

Antihistamines can be used for treating symptoms of the common cold and flu. They are also effective in managing symptoms of insect bites and stings. Some antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, are used to treat insomnia and motion sickness due to their sedative effects.

Moreover, antihistamines can be used as a part of an emergency treatment for severe allergic reactions, known as anaphylaxis. It should be noted that while antihistamines can provide short-term relief from allergy symptoms, they do not address the root cause of allergies. For long-term management of allergies, other treatments such as immunotherapy may be recommended. For more information on how antihistamines help your allergy symptoms, refer to this article.

What Are the Side Effects of Antihistamines?

While antihistamines are generally safe, they can still cause side effects. The most common side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, and urinary retention. The severity and frequency of these side effects vary depending on the type of antihistamine being used.

First-Generation Antihistamines

First-generation antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, are more likely to cause drowsiness and other side effects. These antihistamines easily cross the blood-brain barrier, leading to side effects related to brain activity like drowsiness and impaired coordination. They also have anticholinergic effects, which can cause dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, and urinary retention.

Second-Generation Antihistamines

Second-generation antihistamines are less likely to cause drowsiness and other side effects. They are selectively taken up by peripheral histamine receptors and do not cross the blood-brain barrier as easily, reducing the likelihood of drowsiness and other central nervous system side effects. However, they can still cause mild side effects such as headache, dry mouth, and nausea.

Despite the potential side effects, antihistamines are generally considered safe for routine use in managing allergy symptoms. Always consult with a healthcare provider to decide the best antihistamine for your needs and to understand their potential side effects. For more details on the safety of antihistamines, refer to this article.

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If you want long-term relief from your allergies, Wyndly can help. Our doctors will help you identify your allergy triggers and create a personalized treatment plan to get you the lifelong relief you deserve. Start by taking our quick online allergy assessment today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common antihistamine?

The most common antihistamine is diphenhydramine, often known by its brand name Benadryl. It's widely used to treat symptoms of allergies, such as runny nose, itching, sneezing, and watery eyes. However, it can cause drowsiness, so non-drowsy alternatives like loratadine (Claritin) are also popular.

What do antihistamine drugs do?

Antihistamine drugs work by blocking the action of histamine, a substance in the body that causes allergic symptoms. When an allergic reaction occurs, histamines trigger symptoms like sneezing, itching, and runny nose. Antihistamines help alleviate these symptoms, providing relief from allergies.

What are possible special considerations when administering antihistamines?

Special considerations when administering antihistamines include potential interactions with other medications, effects on underlying health conditions, and possible side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and dry mouth. They should be used cautiously by elderly patients, pregnant women, and those with liver or kidney disease.

What is the truth about antihistamines?

Antihistamines are effective for treating allergic reactions by blocking histamine, a substance that causes allergy symptoms. However, they don't prevent allergies, and some may cause side effects like drowsiness, dry mouth, and blurred vision. They should be used under a healthcare provider's guidance.

Which patients should avoid antihistamines?

Antihistamines should be avoided by patients with certain pre-existing conditions, such as glaucoma, heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid disorder, or enlarged prostate. Additionally, individuals who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant, or breastfeeding should consult their doctor before taking antihistamines.

What is the most troublesome side effect of traditional antihistamines?

The most troublesome side effect of traditional antihistamines is often drowsiness. They can cause fatigue and reduced alertness, which can interfere with daily activities, like driving or work. Other side effects can include dry mouth, blurred vision, and difficulty urinating. Always use as directed by a healthcare provider.

How do you know if you are allergic to antihistamines?

Signs of an allergy to antihistamines may include skin rash, itching, swelling of the face, lips, or tongue, difficulty breathing, or feeling faint. If these symptoms occur after taking an antihistamine, seek immediate medical attention as it could potentially lead to a serious reaction.

What organ do antihistamines affect?

Antihistamines primarily affect the histamine receptors in the body, which are present in multiple organs. They inhibit the effects of histamines in the skin, nose, throat, lungs, stomach, and blood vessels. This reduces allergic symptoms like itchiness, sneezing, hives, and inflammation.

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