How to Aaah-Choose the Right Allergy Medicine

Little girl blows her noseBy: Rachel Clemens, PharmD Candidate 2014, Drake University

I love the spring. With it comes warmer weather, bright flowers, sunny skies, and fresh grass. However, spring also brings along pollen and ragweed so when spring has sprung, I get allergies. Have you ever gone to the pharmacy to pick out an allergy medicine and had no idea where to start? Or maybe you’ve tried a few things that haven’t worked great for you and you’re looking for another option? Look no further. I’m here to help.

How do I know if it’s allergies or a cold?

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if you have allergies acting up or if the lingering winter has given you a cold. Here are some of the symptoms that can help you differentiate between the two:

Allergies: watery eyes, itchy nose/ears/throat, sneezing, congestion, red/irritated eyes

Cold: sore throat, congestion, low fever, chills, headache, feeling tired, feeling sore, possible cough

Now that you know that you definitely have allergies, let’s move on to some of the options available to help you feel better fast.

Over-the-counter options

Antihistamines: there are a lot of antihistamines available to try, and some work better than others for some people, meaning that you may have to try a few to find out which one is best for you. These medications are good for helping with symptoms like itching, sneezing, and runny noses. Here’s an idea of what’s out there to get you started:

  • Fexofenadine (Allegra®, Mucinex® Allergy): non-drowsy medication that can be taken once or twice daily, as it is available in 12- or 24-hour formulations. Can also be given in children (but check with a doctor first!)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec®): non-drowsy medication taken once daily. Can also be given in children (but check with a doctor first!)
  • Loratadine (Claritin®): non-drowsy medication taken once daily. Can also be given in children (but check with a doctor first!)
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®): good if you have severe itching. Can make you drowsy, which is good if allergies are worse at night but should be avoided during the daytime. Don’t drive while taking it until you know how it affects you.
  • Chlorpheniramine (Aller-Chlor®, Chlorphen®): good for severe allergies. It will dry you up though, so stay hydrated and watch out for side effects like constipation.

Nasal sprays: if your symptoms are mostly centered around your nose (runny nose, congestion, sneezing, itchy nose), then just using a nasal spray can help without the risk of unnecessary side effects.

  • Afrin®: provides 12-hour relief for nasal congestion. Good to try if you have never used a nasal spray before.
  • Nasacort®: provides 24-hour relief of nasal congestion, sneezing, runny/itchy nose.

If you have tried some of these products and they do not seem to work, talk with your doctor about finding a prescription allergy medication that is right for you.

To “D” or not to “D” – when to add in a decongestant

If you have severe congestion, then it might be time to talk with your pharmacist about getting an allergy medication with a decongestant. You’ll know if your congestion is severe because your head feels heavy and full of “gunk”. You may have trouble breathing through your nose if you lay down, and the sinus pressure may be painful. Combination products like Allegra® D, Claritin® D, and Zyrtec® D are available behind the counter and you will need to show an ID to buy them.

**Remember: it’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor or one of our friendly pharmacists before starting a new medication regimen, even if it’s available over the counter! Everyone is different and they can help ensure you get the best product for you.**


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