Antihistamines are common over-the-counter medications that many people have on hand in their medicine cabinet. They are used primarily to treat allergic symptoms that result from conditions such as hay fever or poison ivy rashes. Many people find that their allergies are worse during certain times of the year known as “allergy season.” This coincides with the increase in pollen from trees and grass and depending on where you live, it is usually during the warmer months.

How do antihistamines work?

Antihistamines work to block the release of a chemical called histamine, which is one of your body’s natural defenses. When your body recognizes a foreign substance, also called an allergen, it reacts defensively through a sequence of reactions that leads to the release of several chemicals, one of which is histamine. These make up your body’s allergic response to the allergen. Itching is one of the responses to the allergen and can range from mild to extremely uncomfortable and painful.

Antihistamines work to:

  • Relieve red and irritated eyes
  • Reduce runny nose and sneezing
  • Relieves itching in the throat, nose or eyes

Types of antihistamines

There are numerous different antihistamines available over the counter and prescribed. They also come in a variety of formats. They may be:

  • Creams
  • Tablets
  • Ointments
  • Eye drops
  • Nasal drops

Antihistamines can also be sedating (night formulas) or non-sedating (day formulas).

The older antihistamines are known as first-generation antihistamines and tend to have a strong drowsy effect. The newer ones, known as second-generation antihistamines, are less likely to make you drowsy and work particularly well for alleviating allergy symptoms during the day. Obviously, it is important to make sure you take a daytime formula if you participate in any activity that requires you to remain alert. Nighttime formulas will make you drowsy, but this can go a long way in giving you a good night’s rest and relief from your symptoms. However, depending on how long the effects last, some people may find that they wake up feeling a little sleepy. Under no circumstances should you take a formula at night and then drive.

Some of the common antihistamines that you will find on the ingredient labels of medications supplied by your pharmacy include:

  • Acrivastine
  • Loratadina
  • Fexofenadine
  • Desloratidine
  • Cetirizine

These may be brand names that you recognize, such as:

  • Neoclarityn
  • Benadryl
  • Antihistamine Tablets Boots
  • Zirtek

Antihistamine eye drops and nasal sprays tend to be fairly fast acting and can be a good option for immediate allergy relief.

Side effects of antihistamines

Older people tend to cause more side effects, particularly drowsiness. The newer antihistamines have fewer side effects, so they may be a better option for some people.

Some of the main side effects of antihistamines include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Restlessness or moodiness (in some children)
  • Trouble urinating or not being able to urinate
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion

If you take an antihistamine that causes drowsiness, take it before bed. Do not take it during the day before driving or using machinery. Read the label before taking an allergy medicine. Antihistamines can interact with other medications you are taking.

Talk to your doctor first if you have an enlarged prostate, heart disease, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, kidney or liver disease, a bladder obstruction, or glaucoma. Also check with your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

How Antihistamines Treat Allergies

When your body comes in contact with whatever your allergy trigger – pollen, ragweed, pet dander, or dust mites, for example – it produces chemicals called histamines. They cause the tissue in the nose to swell (making it clogged), the nose and eyes to run, and the eyes, nose, and sometimes mouth to itch. Sometimes, you can also have an itchy rash on the skin, called hives.

Antihistamines reduce or block histamines, thereby stopping allergy symptoms. These medications work well to relieve the symptoms of different types of allergies, including seasonal (hay fever), indoor, and food allergies. But they cannot relieve all symptoms.

To treat nasal congestion, your doctor may recommend a decongestant. Some medicines combine an antihistamine and a decongestant.

Additional precautions

Long-term use of antihistamines can leave your nasal membranes dry and irritated, so it’s a good idea to have your doctor monitor your allergies and any treatments. Very rarely, antihistamines can cause an irregular heartbeat. As always, be aware of possible effects on concentration, not just when driving, but in situations where you need sharp focus, like passing the school exam.
When it comes to managing everyday ailments, such as allergies and certain skin rashes, antihistamines are a helpful medicine to have in your medicine cabinet. If you suffer from frequent allergies, it is best to ensure that you have an adequate supply of antihistamines in your home and that you take them under the supervision of your doctor. Hopefully, you can enjoy the warmer months without the annoying runny nose, itchy throat, and watery eyes that plague allergy sufferers.

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Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of ​​expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

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