Choosing the right medication for seasonal allergies

Does the arrival of spring or summer bug you because you suffer from seasonal allergies? Learn how you can treat your symptoms to minimize their impact on your life.

Choosing the right medication for seasonal allergies

In search of the optimal treatment

People who, year after year, suffer from the many hassles of seasonal allergies are often in “solution-searching” mode. These days, there are so many medications available on the market that it’s always surprising to see that many individuals are still not adequately treated for this affliction. At the beginning of the season, we see tons of commercials on television and online praising the merits of allergy medication with images of runny noses, itchy eyes, red faces and violent sneezing. If you feel like you’re seeing a caricature of your seasonal-allergy self in these commercials, what follows might interest you.

Antihistamines: the foundation of treatment

The following symptoms are characteristic of seasonal allergies:

  • sneezing;
  • itchiness (eyes, palate, nose);
  • teary eyes;
  • congested nose or very runny nose.

All of these can be treated with antihistamines, which are actually the first choice of treatment. There are two categories of antihistamines: first generation and second generation. The following chart indicates in which group the most well-known over-the-counter products belong.

Chart 1: First- and second-generation antihistamines

1st-generation antihistamines

2nd-generation antihistamines

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®, etc.)

Loratadine (Claritin®, etc.)

Chlorphenamine (ChlorTripolon®, etc.)

Cetirizine (Réactine®, etc.)


Desloratadine (Aerius®, etc.)


Fexofenadine (Allegra®, etc.)

Some references actually claim that desloratadine is part of a third generation of antihistamines.

The advantage of second-generation antihistamines resides in the fact that they cause less drowsiness and dryness of the mouth. Therefore, because allergy symptoms are also present during the day, medication can be taken without disrupting daily activities. In addition, they are only taken once or twice a day, which is a second advantage. Those are the reasons why they are more commonly used nowadays compared to first-generation antihistamines. Although the dose must be adjusted for children, these medications are safe for little ones.

When antihistamines are not enough

Nasal congestion can be very annoying, and is a very common aspect of seasonal allergies. Nasal decongestants (spray) are a good option because their local action limits the appearance of adverse effects. However, they cannot be used more than three to five days in a row; this might cause a chronic congestion problem. When congestion persists, oral decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, can be appropriate, but they should not be taken before bedtime since they can disrupt sleep. They can also lead to other side effects and, especially, not be appropriate for everyone, such as children. It is best to always check with your pharmacist before taking an over-the-counter decongestant, especially if you take other medication or suffer from chronic illness.

One interesting option to reduce symptoms, especially congestion and runny nose, is using saline solution. Cleansing the nasal passage with saline allows, among other things, to reduce the presence of symptom-causing pollens. This measure is very safe and can be used several times a day to benefit both young and old.

In cases of severe nasal congestion, a doctor can also prescribe nasal-spray corticosteroids.

In addition, allergies can cause major symptoms in the eyes, such as itchiness, tears and redness in the white part of the eye. When oral antihistamines are not enough to relieve these symptoms, eye-drop antihistamines are also available. Because these drops are located behind the counter, you must ask for them at the pharmacy’s lab. For severe symptoms, other treatments are available by prescription.  

Tips for optimal use of medication

For seasonal-allergy medication to be as effective and safe as possible, you must take it correctly. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Start taking your oral antihistamines a few days before the start of allergy season to relieve your symptoms even more rapidly.
  • Make sure that the medication you are taking does not make you drowsy before you drive a car, operate heavy machinery or undertake any other activity requiring your full attention.
  • Never take more medication than what is recommended.
  • If you are mostly experiencing symptoms at night, choose first-generation antihistamines. They will help you sleep better.
  • Avoid using a nasal-spray decongestant for more than three to five days in a row.
  • Discard eye drops 30 days after opening the bottle.

You shouldn’t worry so much about the arrival of allergy season. Treating its symptoms with the right medication will allow you to fully appreciate the joys of spring and summer. Although most of these products are available over the counter, some do pose a few risks if you suffer from other health problems. Don’t forget that your pharmacist is a medication expert!


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Choosing the right medication for seasonal allergies

Does the arrival of spring or summer bug you because you suffer from seasonal allergies? Learn how you can treat your symptoms to minimize their impact on your life.
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