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What are the risks of taking over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for allergy?

ANSWER

Most OTC medicines, including antihistamines and nasal steroids, are safe to use as directed for as long as your symptoms last, but there are some exceptions. Don't use a decongestant nasal spray for more than 3 days unless your doctor says to. It could stop working and make your stuffiness worse.

Talk to your doctor about other potential risks. One study found a link between dementia and using high doses of some OTC antihistamines for many years, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Allergy medications: Know your options."

ConsumerMedSafety.org: "Differences between prescription and OTC medicines."

FDA: "Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs: Questions and Answers."

National Eczema Association: "Hydrocortisone FAQ."

Medscape: "Allergic Rhinitis Medication."

MedlinePlus: "Montelukast."

"Using the Antihistamines to Treat: Allergies, Hay Fever, & Hives," Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, July 2013.

Gray, S.L. , published online March 2015. JAMA Internal Medicine

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "When to See an Allergist," "AAAAI Allergy & Asthma Medication Guide."

FamilyDoctor.org: "Antihistamines: Understanding Your OTC Options," "OTC Medicines: Know Your Risks and Reduce Them."

American Medical News: "Doctors pressured to write prescriptions for OTC drugs."

U.S. News & World Report: "What You Don't Know About Your Obamacare Coverage."

HealthyChildren.org: "Allergy Medicine for Children."

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson on July 20, 2018

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Allergy medications: Know your options."

ConsumerMedSafety.org: "Differences between prescription and OTC medicines."

FDA: "Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs: Questions and Answers."

National Eczema Association: "Hydrocortisone FAQ."

Medscape: "Allergic Rhinitis Medication."

MedlinePlus: "Montelukast."

"Using the Antihistamines to Treat: Allergies, Hay Fever, & Hives," Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, July 2013.

Gray, S.L. , published online March 2015. JAMA Internal Medicine

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "When to See an Allergist," "AAAAI Allergy & Asthma Medication Guide."

FamilyDoctor.org: "Antihistamines: Understanding Your OTC Options," "OTC Medicines: Know Your Risks and Reduce Them."

American Medical News: "Doctors pressured to write prescriptions for OTC drugs."

U.S. News & World Report: "What You Don't Know About Your Obamacare Coverage."

HealthyChildren.org: "Allergy Medicine for Children."

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson on July 20, 2018

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When should you see a specialist for your allergy?

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