What Is the Best OTC Allergy Medicine?

By Rosanna Sutherby, PharmD

April 24, 2020


With allergy season upon many parts of the country, you may be rushing to a pharmacy near you for some relief from your allergy symptoms. Some doctor’s offices may be closed in an effort to practice social distancing, and it may be difficult to obtain a prescription for your allergy medicine.

Fortunately, many effective allergy medications are available over the counter (OTC) without a prescription. Managing your allergy symptoms is possible using OTC allergy medicine. Before visiting a pharmacy near you, read the following guide on choosing the best OTC allergy medicine.

What Is the Best OTC Antihistamine for Allergies?

If you are treating symptoms of seasonal allergies, such as runny nose, sneezing, itching, and watery eyes, you may need to take allergy medication for a few months or, sometimes, year-round. In this case, second-generation antihistamines are your best choice for long-term and effective treatment of your symptoms. Second-generation antihistamines are newer antihistamines that were developed to minimize the drowsiness, dizziness, and dryness that older antihistamines cause. Drugs in this class include the following:

Antihistamines help relieve your allergy symptoms by preventing the effects of histamine, a substance that your body releases in response to allergens, such as pollen and ragweed. Histamine is responsible for symptoms such as sneezing, itching, runny nose, and watery eyes. Ideally, you should start taking your antihistamines before allergy season starts because they work better at preventing allergy symptoms than at treating them once symptoms have appeared.

When Do You Need an Oral Decongestant?

Sometimes your allergy symptoms include nasal congestion. If this is the case, you may need a nasal decongestant. Nasal decongestants work by shrinking swollen blood vessels in your nasal passages, which opens them and improves breathing, and by increasing drainage of your sinuses. OTC oral products in this category include the following:

You should not use oral decongestants if you have high blood pressure or heart problems. These medications can increase blood pressure and heart rate. Be sure to check with your pharmacist before taking OTC allergy medicine. Many products are combination medications that contain decongestants.

When Should You Use a Nasal Spray?

If your allergy symptoms are primarily runny or stuffy nose, several options exist for nasal sprays to treat these symptoms.

Steroid nasal sprays that not long ago required a prescription are now sold over the counter. Steroid nasal sprays work by reducing inflammation and swelling in your nasal passages. Products in this category include the following:

Saline nasal sprays work well to rinse allergens and mucus from your nose and clear congestion. Saline nasal sprays or rinses are safe options if you need a decongestant, and you have high blood pressure or heart problems. You can use a saline nasal spray or rinse before you use your steroid nasal spray to clear the nasal passages, or you can use it on its own as a decongestant.

Common names for OTC saline nasal sprays or rinses include the following:

  • Ocean
  • Ayr
  • Simply Saline
  • Neti Pot

When Do You Need Antihistamine Eye Drops?

For some people, allergy season comes with itchy eyes that oral antihistamines cannot control. If this is the case for you, you may benefit from an antihistamine eye drop. Antihistamine eye drops work directly in your eyes to block the release of histamine and prevent allergy symptoms. Several products that used to require a prescription are now available over the counter.

The best options for long-lasting relief include the following products:

  • olopatadine (Pataday): You can use the 0.2% drops once a day or the 0.1% drops once or twice a day.
  • ketotifen (Zaditor): Ketotifen can provide relief for up to 12 hours.

Follow these steps to administer your eye drops:

  1. Slightly tilt your head back and look up.
  2. Pull down on your lower lid to make a pocket.
  3. Without touching the tip of the bottle to your eye or eyelids, squeeze one drop into the pocket of your lower lid.
  4. Close your eye, and do not blink.
  5. Press gently on your tear duct to keep the eye drop from draining into your nose.
  6. Replace the lid on the eye drop bottle and rewash your hands.

Whether allergy season brings a runny nose and sneezing, or your symptoms include itchy and watery eyes, you can find relief with OTC allergy medication. Although your doctor may write a prescription for allergy medication, some insurance plans may not cover them because they are available over the counter. If your insurance does not cover your medication, you can use a free Rx savings card to get the lowest prescription price.

Rosanna Sutherby is a freelance medical writer who has been a practicing pharmacist in her community for close to 20 years. She obtained her Doctor of Pharmacy from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. She utilizes her clinical training in the pharmacy, where she helps patients manage disease states such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and many others. Dr. Sutherby reviews and recommends drug regimens based on patients’ concurrent conditions and potential drug interactions.

















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