Health Encyclopedia

Using Allergy Medicines

Keep the following guidelines in mind when looking for allergy relief. 

Be aware of side effects

Some over-the-counter allergy medicines will make you drowsy. They may contain antihistamines, decongestants, or both. Be careful not to take them when you will be driving or working with machinery. Newer antihistamines like loratadine, cetirizine, and fexofenadine are available over the counter. These are less likely to cause you to be sleepy.  

Read carefully

Make sure you follow the package instructions. Don't take more or more often than directed. Make sure you know whether you can take the medicine with your other medicines or with health conditions you may have.

Nasal sprays

Nonprescription decongestant nasal sprays or drops may make you feel better for a while, but they have a "rebound effect." This can actually make congestion or stuffiness in your nose worse. Make sure you:

  • Watch for side effects like nosebleeds, rapid heartbeat, and agitation.

  • Use them for only a few days at a time, usually 3 days of continued use. It's safe to use them again after giving your nose a rest for a few days.

  • Saline sprays or drops can help moisten nasal secretions and help clear the nose and sinuses. They are safe to use continuously.

  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays are very effective for treating nasal allergies. They may take a few days until you notice that your symptoms are better.

  • Nasal antihistamine sprays are also effective and available by prescription. They may also cause sleepiness.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.