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Allergies Health Center

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Medications to Treat Pollen Allergies

You're already doing the best you can to avoid pollen, but sometimes you may also need medication to ease your seasonal allergy symptoms.

The main types of allergy drugs are listed below. Check with your doctor before you start taking allergy medicine, even if you didn't need a prescription for it. That way, your doctor can make sure you're taking what you need and check on any side effects.

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Nasal Steroids

These prescription drugs, which you spray into your nose, relieve congestion, runny nose, sneezing, itchy nose, and other symptoms.

If your symptoms are bad enough to need a prescription, nasal steroids are often the first choice. They include:

  • Beconase (beclomethasone)
  • Flonase (fluticasone)
  • Nasacort (triamcinolone)
  • Nasalide (flunisolde)
  • Nasonex (mometasone)
  • Omnaris (ciclesonide)
  • Rhinocort (budesonide)
  • Veramyst (fluticasone)
  • Zetonna (ciclesonide)

Two steroid sprays, Nasacort and Flonase, are available over the counter.

Antihistamines

These drugs counteract histamine, which your body makes when you have an allergic reaction.

You take some of these drugs as a pill. Others are sold as nasal sprays. The pills target itching, sneezing, and runny nose. The nasal sprays work on congestion, an itchy or runny nose, and postnasal drip.

Some antihistamines are pills sold without a prescription. They include:

  • Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine)
  • Claritin (loratadine) 
  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)

Prescription antihistamines include:

  • Astelin (azelastine) (nasal spray)
  • Clarinex (desloratadine) (pill)
  • Patanase (olopatadine) (nasal spray)

Decongestants

Decongestants unclog the stuffiness in your nose. Some need a prescription. Others are available without a prescription, as pills and nasal sprays.

Common decongestants are pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine.

Don't use nasal decongestants for more than 3 days in a row, or you might get rebound congestion, which means you get congested all over again.

Other Medications and Combinations

NasalCrom (cromolyn sodium) is an inflammation-fighting nasal spray. It's available without a prescription and helps runny/itchy nose, sneezing, and congestion.

The prescription drug Singulair (montelukast sodium) works by blocking substances called leukotreines. Since Singular can also help asthma, it may work best for people who have both conditions.

Some products include more than one kind of drug. Allegra-D, Claritin-D, and Zyrtec-D contain an antihistamine and the decongestant pseudoephedrine. Dymista is a prescription nasal spray that combines an antihistamine and a steroid.

Allergy Shots and Other Immunotherapy

You call them allergy shots. Your doctor calls it "immunotherapy." By either name, the goal is the same: Retrain your immune system so it doesn't go into allergy mode.

When you get allergy shots, your doctor gives you small, gradually increasing amounts of the pollens that are causing your allergy symptoms. Over time, your body builds up a resistance to these allergens. Allergy shots are a long-term commitment, likely taking three to five years. After that, your doctor will see if you still need them.  

Also, the FDA has approved three under-the-tongue tablets that can be taken at home. The prescription tablets, called Grastek, Ragwitek, and Oralair, are used for treating hay fever and work the same way as shots and drops -- the goal is to boost a patient’s tolerance of allergy triggers.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on February 25, 2013

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