Allergy Medicine Overview: Which One is Best For You?

Your allergies will begin blooming right along with the flowers and other greenery. Experts say that avoiding your triggers is always the best way to head off your seasonal suffering. But if you can't escape pollen, mold, and other allergens, it's essential that you find the right allergy medication to tackle your allergy symptoms. Some allergy medications target specific symptoms, while others can provide more general allergy relief.

If you're looking for long-term control of your allergy symptoms, consider using one of the latest daily allergy medications. And keep in mind that your best bet is to start taking them a few weeks before the season starts. Expect it to take a few weeks before you experience the full benefits. Here's a rundown of common types:

Corticosteroids: These are prescription meds that work to reduce the inflammation and related mucus that occurs with an allergy. While they come in several forms, nasal corticosteroids are considered one of the most effective types of medication. Since you inhale the medication right into your nasal passages, you can expect seasonal allergy relief without serious side effects. Some examples of nasal corticosteroids include Nasonex®, Flonase®, and Beconase®. 

For more severe allergic reactions and/or asthma, your doctor may prescribe a short course of oral corticosteroids. These can be taken in pill or liquid form to treat inflammation but aren't recommended as a long-term treatment. While they can be very effective, they can also cause serious side effects including increased appetite, weight gain, muscle weakness, cataracts, and osteoporosis. Some types of oral corticosteroids include Prednisone and Methylprednisolone.

Mast cell inhibitors: These work by preventing histamines from being released by your mast cells during an allergy attack and can also help treat your body's allergy-related inflammation. Mast cell inhibitors are available by prescription only in nasal sprays, inhalers, and eye drops and are usually easy to tolerate for most people. Some popular types of this drug include NasalCrom®, Crolom®, and Alamast®.

Leukotriene modifiers: This type of drug-on the market today as Singulair®- is another type of allergy medication that prevents allergy symptoms by blocking the chemicals your body produces when exposed to a trigger. These come in prescription oral form. While the US Food and Drug Administration warns that some people taking leukotriene modifiers may experience mood problems, most people tolerate these without ill effects and in the process, find that this medication keeps their spring allergy symptoms in check.

Antihistamines: These are a tried-and-true strategy for addressing seasonal allergy symptoms. While many of these used to be available by prescription only, they are now also easily accessible over-the-counter medications. This class of drug works to block the release of histamines during an allergy attack, which prevents the chain reaction that causes your allergy symptoms. In return for this benefit, some of the older oral antihistamines (like Benedryl®) cause drowsiness and other side effects, but a newer class of non-drowsy antihistamines are much easier for many people to tolerate. You can take antihistamines via nasal inhaler (such as Astelin® and Patanase®), or by pill or liquid form (such as Claritin®, Zyrtec®, and Allegra®). You can choose from short-acting antihistamines that last for about six hours, or slow-acting release versions that have 12 to 24 hour strength.

Decongestants: This class of medicines (available both over-the-counter and also in prescription strength) can't prevent an allergic reaction from occurring, but once you are already in the midst of the misery, it can certainly be effective in helping to address the swelling in your nasal passages to ease your congestion. While decongestants aren't recommended for people with high blood pressure, if you're in good health and your doctor feels these are safe for you to take, you can try decongestants orally (Sudafed®, Triaminic®, and Dura-Vent®) or use a decongestant nasal spray (Vicks®, Sinex®, Neo-Synephrine®, and Dristan®). Just be aware that decongestants can cause side effects such as headaches, dizziness, and irritability. In addition, nasal decongestant sprays should only be taken short-term, or you may experience more severe congestion when you discontinue usage. (You can also find combination decongestant-antihistamines.)

Money-Saving Options

Many over-the-counter and prescription allergy medications are available in name-brand form and also in a generic equivalent. Often the generic option will contain the same active ingredient and as such, will offer an equal level of relief with a lower price tag.

When weighing the costs, keep in mind that over-the-counter drugs may be priced considerably less than prescription options up front, but your insurance may cover some of the prescription price-making this a more affordable option.

Kicking Allergies for Good

When taking allergy medications isn't enough to give you spring allergy relief, you may want to talk to your allergist to find out if you're a good candidate for immunization therapy to desensitize you to your triggers. Just keep in mind that even if you undergo allergy shots, these can take a year or more to build up your tolerance.




"Hay Fever Treatment." American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI)., n.d. Web. 21 March 2011.

"Evaluating the Antihistamines: Treating Allergies, Hay Fever, and Hives Comparing Effectiveness, Safety, and Price." Consumer Reports. Sept. 2010. Web. 21 March 2011.

"Allergy medications: Know your options." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 24 June 2009. Web. 21 March 2011.