Hay Fever Medications

This article has been reviewed by Thanai Pongdee, MD, FAAAAI

Seasonal allergic rhinitis known as hay fever symptoms range from being mildly annoying to seriously impacting day-to-day life.  These symptoms can include sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose or itchiness in your nose, roof of your mouth, throat, eyes or ears.

Hay fever symptoms are most often triggered by tree pollen in the early spring. Grasses are often the culprit during the late spring and early summer. Weeds are most often the cause of late summer and fall hay fever symptoms.

While avoiding the allergens that trigger symptoms is the best way to control hay fever, your allergist / immunologist may prescribe an allergy medication to manage your hay fever symptoms. These medications include nasal corticosteroid sprays, antihistamine pills, nasal antihistamine sprays or decongestant pills.

Antihistamines are the most widely used medications to relieve or prevent hay fever symptoms. These medications prevent the effects of histamine during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines are available as a liquid, pill or nasal spray. Some antihistamines are prescription, while others are available over-the-counter (OTC).

Older, "first-generation" antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine can cause dry mouth, constipation or drowsiness. These first generation medications can further aggravate the fatigue already felt by allergy sufferers.

Newer antihistamines prescribed by your allergist / immunologist are less likely to have side effects and you can’t build up a level of resistance with them. However, if they’re not working as well as they used to, you may need a different type of treatment.

Oral decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine, reduce nasal congestion but often produce insomnia. Leukotriene antagonists may also be prescribed to reduce congestion. Many times, nasal steroids are better alternatives. Prescription nasal sprays can either be topical steroids or antihistamines. Neither of these is addictive. In fact, steroid nasal sprays need to be used regularly to be effective.

The majority of allergy medications for hay fever work best if started before tree pollen is in the air and allergy symptoms develop. If you start taking allergy medications before you first come into contact with spring allergens, the medication can prevent the release of histamine and other chemicals. As a result, allergy symptoms may be much less severe.

Other Resources
A complete list of medications used to treat allergies can be found in the AAAAI Drug Guide.

Monitoring pollen levels can help you avoid being outdoors during peak pollen times. The National Allergy BureauTM (NAB) provides the most accurate and reliable pollen and mold levels. The AAAAI also offers a mobile pollen app. Visit pollen.aaaai.org from your iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or Android and add this app to your home screen.

For long-term relief of allergy symptoms, talk to your allergist / immunologist about Immunotherapy (allergy shots). This is a proven treatment approach that provides lasting benefits for many people suffering from allergic rhinitis. Allergy tablets are also available.

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology