Best Antihistamines for Allergies

WebMD allergies and asthma expert Dr.Paul Enright, MD, recently blogged about the best antihistamines for allergies. With ragweed season just days away, Dr. Enright’s expert advice couldn’t come at a better time.

Like one in five Americans, Dr. Enright suffers from hay fever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis. As a child, Dr. Enright took first generation antihistamines such as Benadryl. The problem with these older antihistamines is that they cause drowsiness; the same drugs are actually sold as over-the-counter (OTC) sleeping pills.

As Dr. Enright got older, he paid about $100 a year for second generation, prescription antihistamines. These once-a-day medications did not cause drowsiness. Then, in 2002, the patent for Claritin expired, and non-sedating antihistamines became available OTC. Now Dr. Enright pays $20 a year for 300 generic Claritin pills. He rarely suffers from allergy symptoms these days, and he recommends second generation antihistamines for seasonal and year-round allergies.

Zyrtec and Xyzal are more likely to cause drowsiness than other second generation antihistamines, and they’re even more likely to have sedating effects at higher doses. The advantage of Zyrtec and Xyzal is that they work faster than Claritin – in about an hour, as opposed to one to three hours. However, a slightly slower onset time shouldn’t make much of a difference, as second generation antihistamines should be taken every morning to prevent the release of histamine throughout the day. They’re much more effective if you take them before allergy symptoms appear. In fact, most doctors recommend that you start taking them a week or so before allergy season. (So if you’re allergic to ragweed, you should start taking antihistamines now!)

Allergra is slightly more effective for relieving itchy, watery, red eyes, according to Dr. Enright. In 2007, the patent on Zyrtec expired, and you can now buy it OTC as well. Zyrtec is also available with an added decongestant. Dr. Enright continues to take generic Claritin every morning, and he keeps a bottle of Benadryl handy for insect stings and severe allergic reactions.

To learn how to combat seasonal allergies using non-pharmaceutical environmental control methods, see Ragweed Season – Allergy Relief Tips.

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