It's a beautiful sunny day in spring or fall, and you're compelled to open the windows in your home to let that delicious, fresh air into your home. It can only be a good thing, right? If you are one of the estimated 36 million people in the United States who suffer from seasonal allergies, this can be the worst thing you can do at that moment in time. Pollen allergies are common, also known as “hay fever” as well as allergies to the mold spores that can run rampant in spring and fall.
Outdoor allergies can be hard to avoid, especially if you have a more severe reaction to pollens and molds. Sometimes taking allergy medications, either prescribed or over the counter, can be your only relief. When allergies are severe, they can interfere with your job, your hobbies, pleasures and how much sleep you get at night.
For whatever reason, you might also have the problem of needing to be in a space where there are indoor allergies, such as cat and dog dander. Perhaps you are house sitting and pet sitting for a friend? In this case, you can take an allergy medicine so you can assist your friend the way you would like without letting your allergy get in your way.
Allergies themselves, or the causes of them, are harmless. Your immune system, however, seems to the think otherwise. When our bodies detect something that it thinks it needs to fight off, it releases a chemical called histamine. If you have a chronic lung disease like COPD or asthma, the mucus can drain into our lungs and cause an exacerbation. This would be the most important reason to take allergy medicine.
Here are the different active ingredients in allergy medicines and what they do.
Decongestants: These are phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine, oxymetazoline, and synephrine. What they do is relieve a stuffy nose by constricting the blood vessels in the nose, which have been swollen and irritated. If you have high blood pressure, glaucoma, thyroid problems or diabetes, it might be dangerous for you to take something with decongestants. Common OTC medications that contain decongestants are Benadryl and Afrin.
Antihistamines: Medicines containing antihistamines counter the production of histamines, which prevents the symptoms of allergies. You are better off paying more for certain second-generation antihistamines that will not cause drowsiness, such as Claritin, Allegra, and Zyrtec. Allergy medications usually have a combination of decongestant and antihistamine ingredients.
Expectorants: If you've already gotten some of the allergy drainage into your lungs and are feeling wheezy, you will need the help of an expectorant like guaifenesin, (Mucinex) or Robitussin. These work by thinning the mucus in your airways so you can expel them and cough them up much more comfortable. Expectorants are generally safe to take for anyone, but you should still consult with your doctor before taking them.
Cough Suppressant: Or antitussives, these might be needed if you have an irritated cough, without needing to expel any mucus. It's usually most appropriate to take a cough suppressant if you have a cough that is keeping you awake at night. The cough suppressant ingredients are benzonatate, codeine, and dextromethorphan.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about allergy medicines, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
Page last updated: October 24, 2018
- UNCHealthCare. What Are Allergies and Why Do They Make You Feel So Bad? Published: October 5, 2017. https://healthtalk.unchealthcare.org/what-are-allergies-and-why-do-they-make-you-feel-so-bad/
- WebMD. Decongestants. Last reviewed: January 14, 2017. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/decongestants
- WebMD. Do I Need Antihistamines for Allergies? Last reviewed: January 26, 2017. https://www.webmd.com/allergies/antihistamines-for-allergies
- WebMD. Expectorant. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-54348/expectorant-oral/details
- WebMD. A Guide to Cough Medicine. Last reviewed: January 23, 2017. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/cough-syrup-cough-medicine