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What is the difference between prescription and over-the-counter allergy medicines?

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One difference can be the strength. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines may not be as strong as a prescription version of that drug. In other cases, a prescription medication works in a different way than OTC versions.

Another difference might be how long it takes for you to feel better. OTC antihistamines typically start working in about an hour, but it may be a couple of days before the prescription kind really kicks in.

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

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