Everything You Need To Know About Allergy Medicine

By Arielle Mitton
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
July 19, 2022

Sneezing, itchy eyes, a nose that won’t stop running—it’s hard to focus when allergy symptoms have taken over your life.

They don’t have to, though: Many medications can help. Not all medications for allergies work the same.

What works for someone else may not help your symptoms.

In this article, I’ll talk about what allergies are, and explore allergy medication options, as well as things you can do at home to reduce your symptoms.

I’ll also cover how healthcare providers diagnose allergies, and how to know when you should see a medical professional for help.

What Are Allergies?

Allergies happen when your immune system reacts to something it perceives as a threat. Some things that your immune system may react to may not bother other people.

You may have allergies to things that many others are allergic to, like pollen or dust mites. Or you may be allergic to substances that are less common to others, like certain medications or foods.

Our immune systems develop allergies based on genetics, environmental exposures, and other factors.

It is not always easy to understand why someone develops an allergy to a specific substance or food.

Most people who have allergies tend to be allergic to more than one thing.  Allergies can cause minor reactions, like a runny nose, or they can cause many symptoms.

They can even lead to a potentially life-threatening anaphylactic reaction, where it becomes hard to breathe.

Even if your allergies are not life-threatening, the symptoms can be frustrating or annoying.  Allergies can be improved with the right medical treatment and lifestyle interventions.

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Allergy Medicines

Allergy medicines help alleviate the symptoms of allergies.

They do not cure allergies and may not prevent all symptoms, but they can typically improve your quality of life.

Over-the-counter treatments

There are many over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medicines available at most pharmacies:

  • Decongestants: These can break up mucus, but may not be safe for taking long-term. Guaifenesin (Mucinex) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) are examples of decongestants that may help with acute congestion caused by allergies.
  • Natural remedies: Some products that include homeopathic ingredients, herbs, vitamins, or minerals may be marketed for allergy relief or support. These types of products may or may not be effective. Even if they are labeled as natural, check with your doctor before taking them with other OTC medicines or prescriptions. They can still cause interactions. Some natural products for allergies can include quercetin, bromelain, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), vitamin C, and diamine oxidase. Most of these have not been studied for effectiveness or safety. Even if you can buy them from a pharmacy or natural food store, work with your healthcare provider to determine what might be helpful and what might harm.

Never mix and match OTC medicines or remedies without talking to your healthcare provider first. Doing so could cause dangerous interactions.

Antihistamines

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is a popular OTC antihistamine; it is typically used for acute allergic reactions, and is not meant to be taken daily long-term.

Daily allergy medicines include options like fexofenadine (Allegra), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and loratadine (Claritin).

You can also get antihistamine nasal sprays and eye drops.

Nasal sprays

Nasal sprays primarily help to ease a congested nose or nasal irritation. Some antihistamine nasal sprays and stronger steroid nasal sprays are available by prescription only.

Others are available OTC. Use them as directed. Decongestant nasal sprays, in particular, can worsen congestion problems if they are used too frequently or for too long.

For example, Afrin can only be used for up to three days, or it will cause worsening rebound congestion.

Examples of nasal sprays include:

  • Saline nasal sprays
  • Decongestant nasal sprays (Afrin)
  • Steroid nasal sprays (Flonase, Nasacort)

Allergy shots

Allergy shots are prescription-only immunotherapy. They try to train the immune system not to overreact to things that trigger allergic reactions.

Some offer long-term solutions for people who have severe allergies to common allergens, including:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Mold spores
  • Pet dander

Allergy shots may be effective for 3-5 years, or they may not be effective at all. Insurance does not always cover immunotherapy treatment.

Home Remedies for Allergies

It is not possible to cure most allergies.

You can remove frequent exposures by doing certain things in your living space that reduce your symptom load.

Rinse your sinuses

If you breathe in a lot of particles that irritate your immune system, you may have more histamine responses. Neti pots and saline sprays are helpful to rinse allergy contaminants out of your nasal passages.

By rinsing your sinuses, you may be able to decrease symptoms.

Most neti pots suggest rinses up to twice per day. Follow the instructions on your product or the label for saline washes and sprays.

Over-rinsing could lead to irritation and dryness, which could make some symptoms worse.

Dust thoroughly

Even if dust mites are not one of your allergens, keeping your home free from dust can cut down on your overall allergy symptoms.

Mold, pollen, and dander can be found in the dust that settles across your home.

  • Use a damp rag to remove dust so you don’t simply spread it around.
  • Replace carpet, when feasible, since it holds dust and produces dust as it breaks down.
  • Replace fabric furniture with leather or non-fabric surfaces, whenever possible, to cut down on more surfaces that hold dust.

Keep your linen clean

You spend many hours each night in bed, so it makes sense to have it as free from possible things that irritate your allergies.

If you have any seasonal allergies or other environmental sensitivities, frequently washing your bedding can cut down on allergen exposure. 

  • Use hypoallergenic pillows and blankets when possible.
  • Wash bedding 1-2 times per week in the hottest water possible.
  • Do not dry bedding outdoors.
  • Replace your mattress, when needed, with a hypoallergenic version. Or get a hypoallergenic mattress cover.

Close the windows

When you have allergies, flooding your home with outside air can worsen your symptoms.

This is especially true if you are allergic to pollen, mold, air pollution, and anything else from outside.

Use HEPA filters

HEPA stands for high efficiency particulate air filter. These can help trap particles in the air and keep you from breathing them in.

HEPA air filters can be installed on entire home furnaces and air conditioning systems. You can also use individual room air filters.

Take extra steps when pollen counts are high

If you are sensitive to pollen, consider adjusting plans and avoiding time outside as much as possible.

This will minimize your allergy flare-ups and help reduce symptoms.

Reduce exposure to known allergy triggers

When you know exactly what you are allergic to, you can reduce your exposures to minimize the effects on your health.

Some steps to do this include:

  • Changing your clothes after you have been outdoors.
  • Washing outdoor clothing in hot water.
  • Staying indoors on days when your allergens are elevated.
  • Do not dry clothes outside.
  • Do not keep windows open.

Consider hypoallergenic pets

Pet allergies can be devastating, especially if you already have a pet you love!

If you are allergic to pet dander and you can’t part ways with your pet, there are ways to minimize your symptoms.

  • Replace flooring so that carpet does not store pet dander
  • Do not let your pet sleep in your bed or the same room as you
  • Bathe your pet frequently
  • Consider speaking to your medical provider about immunotherapy options

If you do not yet have a pet and want one, you can get hypoallergenic dogs that are easier to live with when you have allergies.

Vacuum routinely

This is especially important if you have carpet.

You can also use a vacuum that has a HEPA filter, which can cut down on how many allergens are dispersed into the air while you are cleaning.

Vacuum as often as seems to help your symptoms. Depending on how sensitive you are, this may need to be from a few times per week to daily. 

Dehumidify

Dry conditions can worsen allergies, but so can overly damp environments.

Dehumidifiers can reduce certain allergens, like mold, from areas that tend to get moist, like bathrooms and basements.

Reduce houseplants

Houseplants can be calming and aesthetically pleasing, but whether they are real or plastic, they are an easy place for dust to collect.

If you are allergic to dust or pollen, houseplants may make your allergies worse. Dried flowers also collect and produce dust.

Control cockroaches

Cockroaches contribute to environmental allergies.

If you live in the southwest United States, where they are more common, have your home inspected and treated to prevent or address cockroach infestations.

Diagnosing Allergies

A medical provider can run tests to identify what is triggering your allergy symptoms.

They may need to do one or more tests, depending on your symptoms:

  • Blood (IgE) test: An IgE blood test looks for antibodies to certain substances. If your immune system is reacting to a compound, a food, or something else, it will produce antibodies to that substance. IgE laboratory testing is not perfect, and can sometimes result in false positives.
  • Scratch test: A scratch test helps pinpoint reactions to many different substances. A medical provider uses thin needles or a tool that barely scratches the surface of the skin. While that sounds unpleasant, the testing does not cause pain. Your skin is then exposed to 10-50 different types of allergens. The medical provider may wait for around 15 minutes to see what your skin reacts to; this part may feel uncomfortable as bumps or a rash form, showing what you are allergic to. This test can help you get definitive answers about what to avoid and how to take precautions for managing your allergies effectively.
Concerned about allergies? Chat with a provider through K Health.
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When to See a Medical Professional

If you have allergy symptoms and want to find relief, speak with a medical provider to discuss your symptoms and find out what testing or treatment options can help you.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a healthcare provider in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best medicine for allergy?
There is no single best allergy medicine. What works for someone else may not work for you. There are many categories of medicines that can address allergy symptoms. In some cases, a medical provider may suggest using more than one. If you have allergy symptoms and are not sure what will be most effective, talk to a healthcare provider to get started.
What is the best allergy medicine that works fast?
Many allergy medications are designed to alleviate symptoms quickly. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is a medication often used for acute allergic reactions, but other types of medications may also work quickly, depending on what you are allergic to.
What allergy medicine can I take every day?
There are many types of daily allergy medications. Your healthcare provider can recommend options that are best suited to your symptoms. Some common daily OTC allergy medicines include fexofenadine (Allegra), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and loratadine (Claritin).
Is Benadryl an allergy pill?
Yes. Benadryl is a brand name for the drug diphenhydramine. It is an antihistamine that can work on certain types of allergic reactions. It is typically used for acute allergic reactions, and is not meant for daily use unless recommended by your doctor.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Arielle Mitton

Dr. Mitton is a board certified internal medicine physician with over 6 years of experience in urgent care and additional training in geriatric medicine. She completed her trainings at Mount Sinai Hospital and UCLA. She is on the board of the Hyperemesis Research Foundation to help women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.