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Itching for Allergy Relief

Medications

FDA regulates medications that offer allergy relief. Here's a rundown of drug options that can help you survive the sneezing season:

Nasal corticosteroids: These are typically sprayed into the nose once or twice a day to treat inflammation. Drugs in this category include Nasonex (mometasone furoate) and Flonase (fluticasone propionate). Side effects may include stinging in the nose.

Oral and nasal antihistamines: These drugs, whether OTC or prescription, counteract the action of histamine, a substance released in the body during an allergic reaction. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Chlor-Trimeton (chlorpheniramine) are examples of OTC antihistamines. Drowsiness is a common side effect, so don't take these types of drugs when you have to drive, operate machinery, or do other activities that require you to be alert.

Non-sedating OTC antihistamines include Claritin and Alavert (both loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine). Zyrtec may cause mild drowsiness. Some non-sedating antihistamines, such as Clarinex (desloratadine) and Allegra (fexofenadine), are available by prescription. Many oral antihistamines are available OTC and in generic form.

The prescription drugs Astelin (azelastine) and Patanase (olopatadine) are antihistamine nasal sprays approved to treat allergy symptoms. They can be used several times a day. Side effects include drowsiness, a bitter taste in the mouth, headache, and stinging in the nose.

Decongestants: These drugs, available both by prescription and OTC, come in oral and nasal spray forms. They are sometimes recommended in combination with antihistamines, which used alone do not have an effect on nasal congestion. Allegra D is an example of a drug that contains both an antihistamine (fexofenadine) and a decongestant (pseudoephedrine).

Drugs that contain pseudoephedrine are available without a prescription but are kept behind the pharmacy counter as a safeguard because of their use in making methamphetamine—a powerful, highly addictive stimulant often produced illegally in home laboratories. You will need to ask your pharmacist and show identification to purchase drugs that contain pseudoephedrine.

Using nose sprays and drops more than a few days may give you a "rebound" effect—your nasal congestion will get worse. These drugs are more useful for short-term use to relieve nasal congestion.

Non-steroidal nasal sprays: NasalCrom (cromolyn sodium), an OTC nasal spray, can help prevent symptoms of allergic rhinitis if used before symptoms start. This non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) needs to be used three to four times a day to be effective.

Leukotriene receptor antagonist: The prescription drug Singulair (montelukast sodium) is approved to treat asthma and to help relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis. It works by blocking substances in the body called leukotrienes. Side effects may include headache, ear infection, sore throat, and upper respiratory infection.

If you have any other health conditions, check with your health care professional first to determine which OTC medicine to take. For example, people with uncontrolled high blood pressure or serious heart disease shouldn't take decongestants unless directed by a health care professional.

And always read the label before buying an OTC product for you or your children, says Chowdhury. "Some products can be used in children as young as 2 years, but others are not appropriate for children of any age."

WebMD Public Information from the FDA