Over-the-Counter Allergy Drugs: Which Ones Are Best For Your Family?

From the colorful blooms to the picture-perfect weather, it’s hard to beat springtime in Charleston — except for the dreaded allergy symptoms. Many kids and adults alike suffer from allergies so severe that they end up missing school or work. Luckily, there are tons of great medications available over-the-counter that can work wonders for every member of the family.

“The best medications we have for allergies are antihistamines and nasal sprays that contain cortisone (low-dose corticosteroids),” says Dr. Andrew Davidson, a board-certified allergist at Charleston Allergy & Asthma. “These two are the cornerstones of pharmacological treatment for allergies. The most effective and safest medications are pretty much all available over-the-counter now.”

Allergies often run in the family, so if you have them, there's a 50 percent chance your child will too. Here’s everything you need to know about the best over-the-counter allergy meds for the whole family.


Understanding antihistamines

Antihistamines are medications that block the effect of histamines, which are substances your body releases when you have an allergic reaction. They primarily treat symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, itching, and congestion. The most common antihistamines you’ll find include newer options like Zyrtec, Claritin, Xyzal and Allegra and older versions like Benadryl and Chlorpheniramine.

The older antihistamines, Dr. Davidson says, are short-acting, which means you have to take them three to four times a day for round-the-clock functionality — plus, they cause drowsiness. The newer options all last for 24 hours and cause less drowsiness overall.

“These newer antihistamines that are long-acting and relatively non-drowsy are available over-the-counter and are very safe to give to children,” Dr. Davidson says. “There are no long-term side effects from any of these antihistamines.”


Understanding nasal sprays

Nasal sprays like Flonase, Rhinocort, and Nasacort are anti-inflammatory medications that suppress allergic reactions and prevent the release of histamine and other mediators that cause allergy symptoms.

“Nasal sprays that contain corticosteroids generally work best if taken on a regular basis and help to prevent allergic reactions,” Dr. Davidson says. “One spray on each side of the nose once a day can be enough to make a major difference in someone’s symptoms. They’re very safe, especially if taken for a couple months at a time for a particular pollen season.”


How do I decide which one is best?

Some people choose to use a combination of oral antihistamines and nasal spray to best control their symptoms.

When it comes to antihistamines, if drowsiness is a concern, Allegra causes no drowsiness, while Zyrtec and Claritin may cause drowsiness in sensitive individuals.

If your child has trouble swallowing pills, most antihistamines are available as syrups or chewable tablets. While nasal sprays have been shown to be very effective, they can be uncomfortable to administer for kids and adults alike. Dr. Davidson often recommends Rhinocort because it doesn't have much taste or smell to it and most people tolerate it well.

The best thing you can do for all members of the family is to try out a few options and see which works best for each individual. Even in the same family, Dr. Davidson says, some people will prefer one type or brand to the other.

You can make an appointment to find out what you are specifically allergic to and your board-certified allergist/immunologist will create an individualized treatment plan tailored to your allergy needs.

Need guidance in treating your allergies? Reach out to Charleston Allergy & Asthma for an appointment. Their board-certified doctors have been providing allergy and asthma care in the Charleston area for over 30 years. They have locations in Mt. Pleasant, Summerville, and West Ashley. For more information, call (843) 881-2030 or visit them online.

Testimonial: Living With Allergies