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List of the Best Over the Counter Allergy Medications

written by: K. A. Arbuckle • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/20/2010

The best over the counter allergy medicine will relieve or prevent symptoms. An OTC allergy medication might be a good option for quick treatment for mild allergic reactions.

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    Allergies can be a pain. Itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing and a stuffy head make it hard for anyone to go about their normal activities. When allergies strike and you are unprepared, or if they are mild and you don't feel like a visit to your health care provider is necessary, over the counter, or OTC, allergy medications might help. The best over the counter allergy medicine for you to use depends on the triggers, the symptoms and some personal preferences.

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    Antihistamines

    Allergy medicine labeled as antihistamines work by blocking histamines, a chemical released by your body when exposed to allergens. When histamines are blocked, symptoms should be prevented or improve if you are already experiencing problems. Some common OTC antihistamines are available readily. You should avoid taking older antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine. It can cause drowsiness and isn't suitable for children and older adults, according to the MayoClinic.com.

    The best choices for OTC antihistamines include:

    • Loratadine
    • Cetirizine
    • Clemastine

    Oral antihistamines may cause a dry mouth, loss of appetite and upset stomach. They will help relieve allergy symptoms, including hives, swelling, itchy and watery eyes, and runny nose. You can also use antihistamine eye drops, such as ketotifen or naphazoline if you have particular trouble with eye symptoms due to allergies. Antihistamine eye drops can cause redness, especially if overused, and temporary blurred vision and mild stinging.

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    Decongestants

    While decongestants don't prevent allergies, they can help with the symptoms. Oral decongestants should, however, only be used after speaking with your physician and pharmacist about any interactions with medical conditions you have or medication you are taking. Decongestants reduce the nasal swelling that occurs with allergies. They are commonly sold as pseudoephedrine. Some decongestants might be combined with antihistamines, such as loratadine, to prevent and treat allergy symptoms. Decongestants have several possible side effects, such as lightheadedness, shakiness, increased blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.

    Decongestants are also available as a nasal spray. Options include phenylephrine and oxymetazoline. Decongestant nose sprays have similar side effects to oral decongestants, and if overused can cause anxiety, insomnia, headaches and tremors. If used for longer than a week, rebound congestion might occur. Upon using nasal decongestants, you might experience stinging and dryness in your nasal passage.

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    Warnings

    You might need to try more than one option to find the best over the counter allergy medicine. If you experience any side effects, speak to your health care provider about the safety of continuing use. A pharmacist can tell you any drug contraindications the OTC allergy medications might have.

    Don't use expired products and check the labels of medication before taking it. Some older allergy medications contained phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, which is now banned by the Food and Drug Administration. PPA was linked to an increased stroke risk and banned in 2000.

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    References

    MayoClinic.com: Allergy Medications: Know Your Options - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/allergy-medications/AA00037

    Cleveland Clinic: Over-The-Counter: Choosing the Right Allergy Medications - http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/allergies/hic_over-the-counter_choosing_the_right_allergy_medications.aspx