Antihistamines for Eczema

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 06, 2024
4 min read

Eczema is a skin condition that makes skin inflamed, scaly, and itchy. The itch can be intense enough to keep you or your child up at night. And if you scratch too much, you might irritate your skin and start a cycle that makes you itch even more.

Antihistamines are medicines that can treat eczema. Some antihistamines also help you sleep. These medicines won't stop eczema flares, but they can break the cycle of itching and scratching that makes flares worse.

Antihistamines aren't the main treatment for eczema, but they work together with steroids, moisturizers, and other medicines to control symptoms like itching and sleeplessness.

You may take antihistamines for eczema caused by allergies. Eczema, allergies, and asthma often go together. Doctors call these three conditions the "atopic triad." If you have eczema you're likely to have allergies, too.

Some antihistamines help you sleep if the eczema itch keeps you awake. Your doctor might prescribe what's called a sedating antihistamine for eczema relief at night.

Antihistamines aren't a cure for eczema, but they can help relieve the itchiness it causes. The itch can be the most annoying symptom of eczema. Sedating antihistamines can help with sleeplessness caused by itching at night.

Histamine is a chemical that your immune system releases when you're allergic to things like pet hair, pollen, or shellfish. When histamine is released, fluid leaks from your blood vessels into your skin, which leads to swelling, a rash, itching, and other symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Antihistamines block histamine to relieve the itch and bring down swelling in your skin.

The sedative in some antihistamines relaxes you and makes you sleepy. By helping you sleep, these medications keep you from scratching your skin during the night and irritating it even more.

Dyshidrotic eczema is a type of eczema that causes small, fluid-filled blisters on the palms of the hands, sides of the fingers, soles of the feet, and sides of the toes. The itch from these blisters can be intense. Taking an antihistamine for dyshidrotic eczema may help relieve the itch.

Antihistamines come in two main groups: sedating and nonsedating. The best antihistamine for eczema is the one that relieves your symptoms.

Sedating antihistamines are also called first-generation antihistamines because they were the first antihistamines released. These medicines contain a sedative to help you sleep.

Examples of sedating antihistamines are:

Sedating antihistamines are good at promoting sleep, but they don't work as well as other eczema medicines at stopping the itch.

Second-generation antihistamines are newer medicines. These nondrowsy antihistamines for eczema don't make you feel as tired, so you can take them during the day. Examples are:

You can buy both types of antihistamines over the counter without a doctor's prescription. They come in tablets and capsules.

While antihistamines do make babies sleepy, these medicines aren't recommended for children younger than 4 because young children are more sensitive to the effects of antihistamines. Kids under age 4 are at higher risk for seizures and other serious side effects from these medicines.

Check with your pediatrician before giving your baby any eczema treatment. Your doctor can suggest safer ways to relieve the itch and help your baby sleep.

Antihistamines are safe for most healthy adults, but they can cause side effects in people with health problems including:

Antihistamines may not be safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Sedating antihistamines make you sleepy, which could be a problem if you have to drive or operate heavy equipment.

Antihistamines for eczema may cause side effects like:

To make sure you take these medicines safely, follow the dosing instructions on the package. If you have any questions about how much to take or to give your child, ask a doctor.

Antihistamines are also an ingredient in some over-the-counter cough and cold remedies. Check the ingredients list on any of the medicines you buy. Taking more than one medicine with antihistamines at a time could lead to more side effects.

These medicines can also interact with other drugs that make you sleepy. Before you take an antihistamine, let your doctor know if you also take sleeping pills, sedatives, or muscle relaxers.

Histamine is a type of amine, a chemical that forms when bacteria break down proteins. You might notice that your symptoms flare up after you have foods or drinks naturally high in amines, like:

  • Cheese
  • Smoked meats like salami, ham, and sausage
  • Pickled or canned food like sauerkraut
  • Shellfish such as shrimp and lobster
  • Chocolate
  • Snacks and sweets that contain preservatives or artificial colors
  • Red wine

You may want to limit or avoid these foods.

A few natural antihistamine foods for eczema are less likely to flare up symptoms:

  • Fresh meat, fish, chicken, and eggs
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Grains like oats, rye, and millet
  • Fresh pasteurized cow, goat, and sheep milk
  • Cream cheese and butter

A food diary can help you pinpoint which foods set off your eczema symptoms and which ones ward off flares. You might also ask a dietitian for help fine-tuning your diet.