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The Different Types of Allergy Medications: OTC & Prescription Options


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If you’re one of the 50 million Americans muddling through the itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and congestion of seasonal or indoor allergies, you’ve probably spent your fair share of time reading labels and debating between various medicine options at your local pharmacy. So what are the different types of allergy medicines, and how are they different? Here are the basics you need to know to make informed decisions about which allergy medicine is right for you.

Perhaps the most well-known allergy medicines, decongestants function by temporarily narrowing the blood vessels and reducing the membrane swelling that accompanies nasal and sinus congestion.

Typical forms of decongestants:

  • Nasal Spray
  • Tablet
  • Liquid
  • Eye Drops

Histamine is one of the chemicals your body’s immune system releases in response to an allergen exposure, the side effects of which are those frustrating symptoms like watery eyes and runny nose. Antihistamines block the histamine from reaching its final destination in your body, thereby reducing the allergy symptoms.

Typical forms of antihistamines:

  • Tablet
  • Liquid
  • Eye Drops
  • Nasal Spray (prescription only)

Intranasal Corticosteroids
As a cortisone-based steroid, this nasal spray form of relief helps reduce congestion as well as inflammation of the nasal and sinus passages caused by your immune system.

Typical forms of intranasal corticosteroids:

  • Nasal Spray

Also called “allergy shots,” immunotherapy consists of a series of treatments administered by a doctor to treat seasonal allergies and indoor allergens. Each dosage introduces the body to successively stronger amounts of the allergen, provoking a reaction from the body’s immune system. Over three to five years of treatment, the body builds up its tolerance to the allergen, reducing or altogether eliminating symptoms. Although a bigger (and usually more expensive) commitment, immunotherapy reduces hay fever symptoms in roughly 85 percent of people with allergic rhinitis.  

Typical forms of immunotherapy:

  • Shot
  • Tablet
  • Oral Drops

Because allergy sufferers may have different triggers and we each have unique internal make-ups, there’s simply no one-size-fits-all solution. Keep this in mind when asking friends what works for them! For the best solution, talk to your doctor about your specific allergens and symptoms, as well as the medicinal path you’re most comfortable taking. And remember that it’s important to follow dosing instructions carefully for the best results.


©Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. 2019

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