It is usually best to take only single-ingredient allergy or cold
preparations, instead of those containing many active ingredients. Talk with a pharmacist if you have any questions.
Over-the-counter medicines used to control the symptoms of allergies,
including allergic rhinitis, include:
reduce or stop sneezing, runny noses, and itching. Examples of over-the-counter
antihistamines include chlorpheniramine (such as Chlor-Trimeton),
diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl), or a newer, nonsedating
("second-generation") antihistamine such as loratadine (Claritin, for example).
antihistamines often make you feel sleepy or tired. They may also affect your
coordination, even when they do not make you drowsy. Because of this, you
should not take them before you drive or operate machinery.
common side effect is a dry mouth. Taking them at bedtime may help with side
Don't give antihistamines to your child unless you've
checked with the doctor first.
Decongestants.Decongestants clear up a stuffy
(congested) nose. They may be pills or liquids (oral), or a nasal gel, drop, or spray.
Possible problems with nasal sprays include
irritation, burning or itching of nasal passages, and sneezing. Overuse can make your congestion
worse (rebound congestion). So don't use the medicine longer than the label says. Examples of spray decongestants are oxymetazoline (such as Afrin, Dristan, or Zicam Extreme Congestion Relief) and phenylephrine (such as Neo-Synephrine).
Decongestants you take by mouth (oral) can
cause you to feel nervous or shaky, have a rapid heart rate, or have trouble
sleeping. If you have
high blood pressure, oral decongestants may make it
worse. You should use them only if your high blood pressure is under control.
Examples of nonprescription oral decongestants include phenylephrine, such as
Note: Decongestants may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Before you use them, check the label. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and in some cases weight.
Steroid nasal sprays. These clear up a stuffy nose. They also help relieve red, itchy, watery eyes. An example is Nasacort.
Antihistamine/decongestant combinations. These
combination pills work on most of the symptoms of allergies. Usually the
decongestant decreases the drowsiness caused by the antihistamine. But some
people feel nervous and sleepy at the same time ("tired and wired"). Examples
of over-the-counter antihistamine/decongestant combinations include
pseudoephedrine/chlorpheniramine maleate (such as Allerest) and
pseudoephedrine/triprolidine (such as Actifed).
Decongestant eyedrops. These medicines reduce itching
and watering of eyes. Don't use them for more than 3 days in a row. They can
cause symptoms when you are not having allergy symptoms. This effect is similar to the
rebound congestion of nasal spray decongestants. Examples of over-the-counter
eyedrops include naphazoline (Clear
Eyes) and tetrahydrozoline (such as Visine). (Saline-only eyedrops for dry eyes may feel good but do not reduce
If over-the-counter medicines do not improve your
symptoms, or if they cause bothersome side effects, such as drowsiness, talk
with your doctor about prescription medicines.
When you take either
over-the-counter or prescription medicines, you may want to keep a medicine
record. Use a notebook to record information on medicine you use,
Name of the medicine.
Form of the
medicine, such as tablet, capsule, liquid, eyedrops, or spray.
much you take or use and how many times a day you use it.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.