I'm a Pharmacist, and This Is the Allergy Medicine I Recommend


Over 50 million people in the U.S. suffer from allergies each year, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. And even though allergies are the sixth-leading cause of chronic illness in this country, there is still no cure for them, the organization notes. Allergic reactions happen when a person's immune system reacts to a foreign substance; for many folks, that means avoiding triggers like pet dander, mold, and pollen from grass, weeds, and trees.

Allergic reactions can vary widely. Sneezing, runny nose, coughing, itchy eyes, hives, and rashes are all common in allergy-sufferers. In more severe instances, people can suffer from asthma attacks, low blood pressure, and trouble breathing.

Because it's impossible to avoid allergens entirely, many people turn to remedies and medications to help alleviate their symptoms and prevent more severe reactions. But what do pharmacists recommend? Read on for their top picks for specific situations.

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This antihistamine won't put you to sleep.
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The Cleveland Clinic explains that histamine is "the main chemical responsible for the itching associated with allergies" and that it can "cause your blood vessels to be more permeable (leaky), which causes stuffiness." Conversely, antihistamines work to block these effects of histamine. For daily use, many allergists recommend non-sedating antihistamines that won't put you to sleep as you go about your day.

When comparing the medicines cetirizine (brand name: Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra), and loratadine (Claritin), "Fexofenadine is the only long-acting, non-sedating antihistamine approved for airline pilots, because it's the least sedating of the three," Mark Aronica, MD, told the Cleveland Clinic.

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Try this if you need something fast-acting.
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"Although it's most likely to cause drowsiness, cetirizine also has the fastest onset of action—in other words, it starts working the quickest," the Cleveland Clinic wrote.

Zyrtec, a common brand name drug of cetirizine, treats watery and itchy eyes, sneezing, itching, and hives, according to Web MD. It does not prevent hives or anaphylaxis, however, and has been shown to cause depression in some patients.

This antihistamine is paired with a powerful decongestant.
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According to U.S. News & World Report, pharmacists ranked Claritin (a brand name of the drug loratadine) as the number-one allergy option.

Claritin-D, a behind-the-counter (BTC) version of Claritin, combines loratadine with the powerful decongestant pseudoephedrine. The Cleveland Clinic explains, "If there's a '-D' at the end of the name of your medication, it stands for 'decongestant,' meaning that it's an antihistamine/decongestant hybrid." This helps your allergies by both reducing blood vessel swelling and blocking histamine, they say.

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Nasal spray may help prevent seasonal allergies altogether.

Aronica and the team at the Cleveland Clinic urge allergy-sufferers not to forget about nasal sprays when allergy season comes around. Over-the-counter (OTC) steroid sprays, such as fluticasone and betamethasone, or BTC antihistamine sprays, like azelastine and olopatadine, don't just help with allergy symptoms, but can even prevent them from occurring in the first place when you take them before allergy season wreaks havoc on your sinuses.

"Nasal sprays really are the best medical therapies we have for managing allergic rhinitis," Aronica said, referring to an inflammation of the nasal passageways caused by allergens. "I tell my patients to start using nose spray at least two to three weeks before allergy season starts."

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.