February 3, 2020

Are OTC drugs enough to keep allergies under control

Many people with allergies find relief from over-the-counter (OTC) medications. But are they always enough to keep your symptoms under control?

What are allergies?

The terms allergies, hay fever, and allergic rhinitis are all used to describe the same group of symptoms that affect the nose and sinuses. (However, “hay fever” is misleading, since it does not cause a fever, nor is it always caused by hay!)

Allergies occur when a person’s immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance in the environment. The immune system, which produces antibodies to fight harmful bacteria and viruses, may also produce antibodies against these harmless substances, known as an allergen.

When the immune system comes into contact with an allergen, it can trigger inflammation in the skin or sinuses. This can cause a variety of symptoms such as:

●       Runny, itchy, stuffy nose

●       Sneezing or nasal congestion

●       Sore or scratchy throat

●       Itchy, red, or watery eyes

●       Dry skin, rash, or hives

●       Coughing and wheezing

●       Headaches or sinus pressure

A person with allergies may experience some or all of these symptoms. These symptoms can also range in severity between individuals.

Allergic rhinitis may be seasonal or perennial. Seasonal allergies are usually triggered by grass,tree, or weed pollen, or the release of certain mold spores. Perennial allergies are triggered by year-round environmental allergens that can include dust mites, pet dander, cockroach droppings, or indoor mold.

Sometimes, allergy symptoms can be triggered by other substances, such as ingredients in strong perfumes, cleaning solutions, or tobacco smoke.

What OTC medicine is best for allergies?

Years ago, many powerful allergy medications could only be obtained by prescription. Now, many of them are available OTC. However, a wider range of options may confuse a person who is trying to decide on the right product.

There are several different types of allergy medications. Here are some of the most common categories, and what they are for:


Antihistamines block the chemical histamine from attaching to immune cells and causing some of the most common allergy symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, and runny nose.They are usually taken orally, in pill form, once every 24 hours. Common OTC antihistamines include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra), and cetirizine (Zyrtec).

Antihistamines usually act quickly, especially when taken only occasionally for irregular allergies, like a day with a particularly high pollen count or being around a certain animal. However, these medications tend to become less effective after several weeks of daily use. Certain types can also cause drowsiness.

Intranasal corticosteroids

Also known as nasal steroids, intranasal corticosteroids can help reduce the sneezing, nasal congestion, and runny nose that commonly occur with allergies. Delivered by nasal spray, these medications can prevent the immune system from overreacting to an allergen, even before histamines are produced.

Nasal steroids can take longer to work than antihistamines, but they are better suited for long-term use in people with perennial and environmental allergies. Intranasal corticosteroids include mometasone (Nasonex), fluticasone propionate (Flonase),and triamcinolone (Nasacort AQ). They may be used several times a day, then once a day as a maintenance dose.


Decongestants can be taken in either oral or nasal versions to help relieve a stuffy nose or sinus pressure caused by allergies. However, they are only suitable for short-term use, and may not be effective after 3-7 days. Decongestant options include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and oxymetazoline (Afrin).

Decongestants are not usually effective at preventing allergy symptoms before they start. However, some medications are available as a combination of decongestant and antihistamine, taken to target multiple allergy symptoms. These include fexofenadine/pseudoephedrine (Allegra-D) and loratadine/pseudoephedrine (Claritin-D).

Antihistamine eye drops

Many eye drops are available OTC to help relieve swelling, redness, or itchiness caused by allergies. There are different options available, including eye drops that combine antihistamines and other medicines. Common examples include ketotifen (Alaway) and pheniramine (Visine-A, Opcon-A).

Antihistamine eye drops, like decongestants, are best for relieving symptoms rather than preventing them. Do not use eye drops while wearing contact lenses. Sometimes they can have side effects such as dry eyes or headache.

Is your allergy medication not working?

It’s fairly easy to tell if an OTC allergy medication isn’t working. If your symptoms persist or even get worse, it could indicate that you aren’t using the right medication.

Unfortunately, many people find that an allergy medication that used to be effective no longer works for their symptoms. In a national survey of 2,500 U.S. adults with allergic rhinitis, nearly half of them reported that their allergy medications did not provide 24-hour relief, and many said that the medication’s effectiveness declined after a few months.

There are several possible reasons for this:

●       Environmental changes, such as air pollution and warming temperatures, can make your allergies worse and make medications seem less effective.

●       People may develop new allergies, or their symptoms may change over time.

●       Many medications need to be taken regularly to be effective; not taking them as directed may make it seem like they are less effective.

●       Age and high levels of stress can increase sensitivity to allergies, and the same medications may not be as effective.

Is there a permanent solution to your allergies?

Have you done everything you can to maintain your allergy medicine schedule, reduce allergen exposure, and lower your stress levels? If your OTC medication still does not feel like enough, you could benefit from seeing an allergy specialist.

Not only can an allergy specialist prescribe stronger medications, but he or she may also recommend more long-term treatments for allergies that could help reduce your sensitivity and your symptoms.

At Aspire Allergy & Sinus, we offer several potential solutions to allergies. Our long-term treatment options include:

●      Allergy Shots: Used to treat seasonal and environmental allergies, allergy shots are a clinically proven method for long-term allergy treatment.

●      Allergy Drops: Delivered in three drops under the tongue each day, this customized treatment can be just as effective as allergy shots. Unlike allergy shots, allergy drops are more convenient, and can be taken just about anywhere.

●      ExACT Immunoplasty: After taking an allergy skin test,you may be a candidate for ExACT Immunoplasty℠, which involves three injection procedures delivered over the course of 8 weeks. During each 60-minute visit,the injection is administered into the inguinal lymph node. Clinical studies report that these injections have a long-term success rate of 87%, and may be just as effective as three years of allergy shots.

Ready to ditch the OTC medications and take real control of your allergies? The specialists at Aspire Allergy & Sinus have helped over 30,000 people just like you say goodbye to allergy issues. Our highly experienced allergists, surgeons, medical providers, and support teams collaborate to provide you the best available. Book an appointment at one of our convenient locations today!

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