Which Type Of Allergy Medication Is Right For You

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Ah (choo), allergy season is upon us. If you’re one of the 60 million U.S. adults who struggles with allergic rhinitis, commonly known as seasonal allergies, sit down and get the Kleenexes handy. Dr. Jennifer Beck, UnityPoint Health, shares the four main types of allergy medications, the symptoms they treat and additional ways to have a less sneezy season.


Antihistamines target histamine, the chemical your body releases to defend against allergens, such as pollen. An allergen is what causes an allergic reaction. Antihistamines work best when taken before you feel allergy symptoms. Once they’re in your blood, they can protect against allergens and prevent the release of histamines from happening. If you have seasonal symptoms, ask your doctor ahead of time if you should be taking allergy medicine.

Allergy Symptoms Treated by Antihistamines

  • Itching
  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing

Types of Antihistamines

Antihistamines come in both pill and nasal spray form. Pills target itching, sneezing and runny nose, while the nasal sprays work best to relieve congestion. Possible side effects from antihistamines can include drowsiness and dizziness, so you should avoid driving after taking them.

Examples of Antihistamines

  • Allegra
  • Benadryl
  • Clarinex
  • Claritin
  • Zyrtec


Corticosteroids are highly effective medications that relieve allergy-related inflammation. Many of these medications require a prescription.

Allergy Symptoms Treated by Corticosteroids

  • Itchy nose, mouth, eyes or throat
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Tearing eyes
  • Nasal congestion

Types of Corticosteroids

  • Intranasal Spray: Corticosteroids can be delivered as a spray directly into the nasal cavities to relieve allergy-related inflammation. Intranasal corticosteroids are considered the most effective treatment for symptoms of seasonal allergies and are less likely than corticosteroid pills to cause significant side effects, because they’re not directly absorbed into the bloodstream. Possible side effects include dry, burning or stinging nasal passages.
  • Pills: Oral corticosteroids are used to relieve the most severe allergy symptoms. They have the potential to cause serious side effects, so their use is limited. Possible side effects include cataracts, osteoporosis and stomach ulcers. If you’re prescribed oral corticosteroids, discuss the risks with your doctor.
  • Eye Drops: If you experience burning and itching eyes, corticosteroids in the form of eye drops may be right for you. They’re prescribed to treat severe eye irritation from allergies. Possible side effects include an increased risk of eye infections and blurred vision.

Examples of Corticosteroids

  • Flonase
  • Nasonex


If severe nasal congestion is your worst symptom, a decongestant may be your best choice. Decongestants cut down on the increased fluid production in your nose caused by allergies, which relieves swollen nasal passages and congestion. These allergy medications come in pill, liquid or nasal spray form, and they typically provide fast relief.

Allergy Symptoms Treated by Decongestants

  • Nasal congestion
  • Head pressure
  • Clogged sinuses

Types of Decongestants

  • Nasal Spray: Nasal spray decongestants offer quick relief from nasal congestion, but should only be used for a short time. Using them for more than three to five days in a row could result in decreased effectiveness of the spray.
  • Pills: Most people take decongestants in the form of a pill to relieve nasal and sinus congestion caused by seasonal allergies. Side effects can include headache and increased blood pressure, so they’re not recommended for people who have hypertension.

Examples of Nasal Decongestants

  • Afrin
  • Sudafed

Decongestants Combined with an Antihistamine

  • Allegra - D
  • Clarinex - D
  • Claritin - D

Immunotherapy - Allergy Shots

If your allergy symptoms persist, even with medication, allergy shots may be right for you. Over time, allergy shots increase your tolerance for allergens and continue to relieve symptoms after the treatment has stopped. They’re an option for people who have severe side effects from allergy medications or those unable to take other allergy medications.

Symptoms Treated by Allergy Shots

  • Severe nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Itchy throat or skin
  • Wheezing
  • Hives

Allergy shots are prescribed by your doctor after completing a full physical evaluation and series of allergy tests. They’re also a long-term commitment. People receive allergy shots periodically over a period of three to five years.

If your symptoms worsen, schedule an appointment with a UnityPoint Health doctor to talk about your options.