Medicines that are safe when they are used
alone can sometimes cause problems if you take them with other medicines. Talk
with your doctor or
pharmacist if you are taking medicine for something
else and want to try an over-the-counter medicine for your allergy.
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 come in nasal spray or pill form.
Possible problems with nasal sprays include
irritation, burning or itching of nasal passages, and sneezing. You should not
use them for more than 3 days in a row, because they can make your congestion
worse (rebound congestion). An example of an over-the-counter
spray decongestant is oxymetazoline, such as Afrin, Neo-Synephrine, or
Decongestants you take as pills (oral decongestants) 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.
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 an
allergic reaction. This effect is similar to the
rebound congestion of nasal spray decongestants. Examples of over-the-counter
eyedrops include tetrahydrozoline (such as Visine) and naphazoline (Clear
Eyes). (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.
Side effects you notice.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug
Reference is not available in all systems.)
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.