OTC Allergy Medicine: Options, Uses, and Side Effects

Wyndly Care Team
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Which over-the-counter allergy medicine is best?

The best over-the-counter allergy medicine depends on your symptoms. For nasal allergies, try steroid nasal sprays like Flonase. Antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra can combat sneezing and itching. For eye allergies, opt for antihistamine eye drops like Zaditor. Always consult a healthcare professional.

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What Are Over the Counter Allergy Medicines?

Over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medicines are non-prescription drugs used to alleviate symptoms of allergic reactions. They are available in various types, each with distinct functions and potential side effects.


Antihistamines are commonly used OTC allergy medicines. They work by blocking histamine, a substance released by the immune system during an allergic reaction that causes symptoms like itching and sneezing. Some common OTC antihistamines include loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine ^1^].


Decongestants provide quick relief from nasal and sinus congestion caused by allergies. They work by narrowing blood vessels in the nasal passages to reduce swelling and congestion. Common OTC decongestants include pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine ^2^].

Steroid Nasal Sprays

OTC steroid nasal sprays are effective in reducing nasal inflammation, a common symptom of allergies. They contain corticosteroids, which reduce swelling and mucus production in the nasal passages. Some common OTC steroid nasal sprays include fluticasone and triamcinolone ^3^].

Combination Antihistamine and Decongestant Medications

Some OTC allergy medicines combine an antihistamine with a decongestant. These combination medications offer dual relief from both nasal congestion and other allergy symptoms like itching and sneezing. Examples include loratadine with pseudoephedrine ^4^].

Mast Cell Stabilizers

Mast cell stabilizers prevent the release of histamine from mast cells in the body, thereby preventing allergic reactions. They are often used as eye drops to treat allergic conjunctivitis. An example of an OTC mast cell stabilizer is ketotifen ^5^].

^1^]: Best OTC Antihistamine for Your Allergies ^2^]: Best Non-Drowsy Allergy Medicine ^3^]: Allergy Medicine Definition ^4^]: Prescription Allergy Medicine ^5^]: Best Allergy Medicine for Kids

How Do Allergy Medications Work?

Allergy medications work by controlling the immune system's response to allergens, reducing inflammation, and alleviating symptoms. The specific mechanism depends on the type of medication and its active ingredients.

The Role of Histamine and Its Receptors in Allergy and Inflammation

Histamine, a compound released by cells in response to allergic reactions and tissue damage, triggers inflammation and other allergy symptoms. It binds to histamine receptors (H1, H2, H3, and H4) in the body, each causing different physiological responses. Antihistamines, as found in many OTC allergy medicines, block these receptors, preventing histamine from causing allergic symptoms.

Insufficient Therapeutic Potential of H1R and H2R Antagonists in Some Allergic and Inflammatory Diseases

While H1 and H2 receptor antagonists (antihistamines) are effective for many, they may not fully control symptoms in certain allergic and inflammatory diseases. In these cases, other treatments such as corticosteroids or leukotriene receptor antagonists (found in some prescription allergy medicines) might be necessary for adequate symptom control.

Potential Drugs Targeting H3 or H4 Receptors in Humans

Research is ongoing into drugs that target the H3 and H4 receptors. These receptors are involved in immune regulation and inflammation. Therefore, targeting them might provide new ways to treat allergies and other immune-related conditions. As our understanding of these receptors expands, we might see new treatments that offer more comprehensive and efficient allergy relief.

What Are Your Options for Allergy Medications?

Your options for allergy medications are extensive, ranging from OTC drugs to prescription treatments, and even natural remedies. The choice depends on the severity of your symptoms, your overall health, and the type of allergy you have.

  • OTC Antihistamines: These are often the first line of defense against allergies. They block the action of histamine, a chemical your body produces during an allergic reaction. Some popular options include cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and fexofenadine (Allegra).

  • OTC Nasal Steroids: These are another OTC option that help reduce nasal inflammation, often caused by allergic rhinitis. They include fluticasone (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort).

  • Prescription Allergy Medications: These are usually recommended when OTC treatments aren't enough. They include stronger antihistamines and corticosteroids, and sometimes even immunotherapy.

  • Natural Remedies: Some people prefer natural antihistamines, like quercetin and bromelain, which may reduce mild allergy symptoms.

Remember, it's always best to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new medication regimen. They can guide you towards the best treatment option for your specific symptoms and condition.

When Should You Use Over the Counter Allergy Medicine?

OTC allergy medicine should be used when you experience mild to moderate allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, or itchy eyes. These symptoms can be caused by exposure to common allergens like pollen, dust mites, or pet dander.

For Immediate Relief: If you're experiencing immediate allergic symptoms, an OTC antihistamine can provide quick relief. Antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and fexofenadine (Allegra) can help reduce these symptoms.

For Continuous Symptoms: If your allergy symptoms persist, you may consider an OTC nasal steroid like fluticasone (Flonase) or triamcinolone (Nasacort). These help reduce nasal inflammation and congestion, providing longer-term relief.

For Mild Allergies: If you have mild allergies or prefer a holistic approach, certain natural remedies may help. These include probiotics, quercetin, and bromelain, which can reduce mild allergy symptoms.

Remember to always follow the recommended dosage instructions on the packaging. If your symptoms persist or worsen with OTC treatments, it's advised to consult a healthcare professional for further guidance. They may recommend prescription allergy medication or other treatments based on your specific needs and condition.

Are There Any Risks or Side Effects of Over the Counter Allergy Medicine?

Yes, OTC allergy medicines can cause side effects, although the severity and type can vary based on the specific medication and individual. Not everyone experiences side effects, but it's important to understand the potential risks before starting any new medication.

Antihistamines: OTC antihistamines like cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and fexofenadine (Allegra) may cause drowsiness, although second-generation antihistamines are less likely to have this effect. Other potential side effects include dry mouth, nausea, and headaches.

Nasal Steroids: OTC nasal steroids like fluticasone propionate (Flonase) and triamcinolone (Nasacort) may cause nosebleeds, nasal irritation, or headache. These side effects are generally mild and temporary.

Natural Remedies: Even natural treatments can have side effects. For example, probiotics may cause digestive issues, and bromelain can cause stomach upset and increase the risk of bleeding in some people. Always consult a healthcare professional before starting a new treatment regimen.

Also, certain OTC allergy medicines may not be suitable for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and people with certain medical conditions or who are taking other medications. Always read the product label or consult a healthcare professional if you have any doubts or concerns. If side effects persist or worsen, seek medical advice promptly. For severe or persistent allergy symptoms, consider discussing prescription allergy medicine options with your healthcare provider.

Live Allergy-Free with Wyndly

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

Is Claritin or Zyrtec better?

Both Claritin and Zyrtec are effective for allergy relief. Zyrtec may alleviate symptoms faster and more effectively for some people, but it can also cause more drowsiness. Claritin tends to have fewer side effects and is less likely to cause drowsiness. Individual responses may vary.

What are the behind the counter allergy medications?

Behind-the-counter allergy medications include antihistamines like Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), and Allegra (fexofenadine), as well as nasal steroids like Flonase (fluticasone) and Nasacort (triamcinolone). These are available without a prescription but are often kept behind the pharmacy counter.

Do over-the-counter allergy medicines work?

Yes, over-the-counter allergy medicines can be effective in managing mild to moderate allergy symptoms like sneezing, itching, runny nose, and watery eyes. However, they may not fully alleviate severe symptoms or treat underlying allergies, for which prescription medication or immunotherapy may be required.

What are the side effects of allergy pills?

Side effects of allergy pills can include drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, and headache. Some individuals may also experience dizziness, constipation, and blurred vision. While these side effects are usually mild, if they persist or worsen, you should consult a healthcare professional.

What are the symptoms of too much allergy medicine?

Overdosing on allergy medicine can lead to symptoms such as drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, restlessness, and confusion. Severe cases might involve hallucinations, seizures, irregular heart rate, and problems urinating. It's crucial to follow the recommended dosage to prevent these potential side effects.

What is the best medicine for allergy symptoms?

The best medicine for allergy symptoms varies depending on the individual and the severity of symptoms. Over-the-counter options include antihistamines, such as cetirizine or loratadine, and nasal sprays, like fluticasone. Severe allergies may require prescription medications or immunotherapy under a healthcare provider's guidance.

Is Claritin or Zyrtec better for allergies?

Both Claritin and Zyrtec are effective for allergy relief, but their effectiveness can vary by individual. Zyrtec tends to work faster and can be more powerful, but it may cause more drowsiness. Claritin tends to cause less drowsiness and lasts longer, but may take longer to work.

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