What Are the Best Medications for Treating Allergies?

Which medication works best depends on your symptoms

Allergy medications available at a pharmacy
What are the best allergy medications for your symptoms?. Mario Villafuerte Collection/Getty Images News

There are several different types of medications you can use to treat allergy symptoms. The most common medications used to treat allergies include antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, and antileukotriene medications (such as Singulair).

Each of these medications has advantages and disadvantages, which will vary based on your personal preferences and symptoms. For example, some people find it hard to use a medication on a regular basis, whereas others prefer using a daily medication and not having to worry about monitoring their symptoms.

Nasal Steroid Sprays

Nasal sprays are the most effective treatment for nasal allergy symptoms associated with hayfever (allergic rhinitis) and can help treat non-allergic rhinitis as well. Nasal sprays may help with eye allergies, too, but the studies on this are inconsistent.

Nasal spray medications include:

  • Flonase (fluticasone)
  • Nasonex (mometasone)
  • Rhinocort Aqua (budesonide)
  • Nasarel (flunisolide)
  • Nasacort AQ (triamcinolone)
  • Beconase AQ (beclomethasone)

If you prefer to prevent symptoms rather than treat them, a nasal spray may be a good choice. Nasal sprays may help with the symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis, whereas oral antihistamines do not help with this condition (there is no histamine release in non-allergic rhinitis).

In order to get the best effect, nasal steroid sprays need to be used on a regular basis. If you don't want to take a medication that requires daily use for results, a nasal spray may not be the best choice for you.

It can also take awhile for nasal sprays to begin working. Some people dislike the idea of spraying a medication in their nose, although the benefit of symptom relief can make it worth the trouble. 

Antihistamines

Oral anthistamines are an effective way to treat allergies. Antihistimines can also treat of eye allergies, and may be more effective than nasal sprays in doing so.

First generation antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenydramine) are not usually used due to the sedation they cause, although you can purchase a non-drowsy formula. 

Second generation antihistamine medications include:

  • Zyrtec (cetirizine)
  • Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Clarinex (desloratadine)
  • Claritin and Alavert (loratadine)

Antihistimines can be used on an as-needed basis and do not need to be taken every day. Antihistamines work rapidly, usually within an hour or so of taking the medication.

Unlike a nasal spray which may prevent symptoms from occurring, you will experience symptoms before taking the medication. You may experience some drowsiness with antihistimines, but this is much less common with the second generation antihistamines currently available.

Antileukotrienes (Singulair)

Singulair (montelukast) is a medication that works similar to an antihistamine, but blocks another chemical mediator of allergies, called leukotrienes. Antileukotrienes are used to treat allergies and asthma, but are not a great medication for either. Singulair is often prescribed in conjunction with another medication such as an antihistamine.

Due to its effect on asthma, Singulair may be a good choice for people with both mild allergies and asthma.

Singulair may also be better than an antihistamines at treating congestion. However, Singulair is less effective at treating nasal allergies than antihistamines.

Sources:

Kakli, H., and T. Riley. Allergic Rhinitis. Primary Care. 2016. 43(3):465-75.

Seidman, M., Gurgel, R., Lin, S. et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: Allergic Rhinitis. Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. 2015. 152(1 Suppl):S1-43.

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