Finding the Best Over the Counter Antihistamine

The sun is shining, the skies are a vibrant blue, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming – spring is in the air.

It’s a beautiful time of the year filled with new beginnings as the world returns to its vibrant colors.

Or, so they say.

Spring can actually be full of stuffy noses, itchy eyes, watery eyes, coughs, sore throats, and congestion headaches. This is not beautiful and wonderful at all.

It’s more like a betrayal, actually. I thought it was spring, not cold and flu season!

Thanks a lot, Mother Nature.

If you’re one of the 50 million people that suffer from allergies in the United States, take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

Also, take comfort in knowing that there’s something you can do about it.

Before taking a trip to your local pharmacy, let’s make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck in the sea of over-the-counter medication for allergies.

We at OTC Wiz present to you the ultimate guide to finding the best over the counter antihistamine.

Identifying Your Needs for the Best Over the Counter Antihistamine

In our previous article, we covered the two types of antihistamines:

  • First generation
  • Second generation

With this information in mind, we need to narrow it down to your symptom needs so you can buy the best over the counter antihistamine for you.

There are many options for you to choose from, as illustrated below.

Pills and Liquids

The most common form of over-the-counter antihistamines come in the form of pills and liquids. They ease a myriad of symptoms, such as:

  • Runny nose
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Hives
  • Swelling

It’s important to note that oral antihistamines can cause drowsiness and fatigue.

Depending on your needs and commitments, it’s important to know which antihistamines cause drowsiness and which are less likely to.

Otherwise, you could wind up in a dangerous situation.

Two oral culprits that cause drowsiness are:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Chlorpheniramine

Of course, there are some antihistamines that are less likely to cause drowsiness and fatigue. These include:

  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • Desloratadine (Clarinex)
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • Levocetirizine (Xyzal)
  • Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)

On top of drowsiness, be aware of other possible side effects:

  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Trouble peeing or not being able to pee
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion

This isn’t to scare you out of using antihistamines, but rather make sure you go in as prepared as possible. If you have certain commitments, such as work, drowsiness and fatigue may affect your ability to work.

When using medication, always err on the side of caution.

Nasal Sprays

If you need an antihistamine that focuses on nose symptoms, such as swelling and drippy nose, perhaps a nasal spray is for you.

For over-the-counter options, there are:

  • Budesonide (Rhinocort Allergy),
  • Fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief)
  • Triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24HR)

Possible side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Nosebleed
  • Cough
  • Bitter taste
  • Drowsiness or fatigue.


Itchy, watery, swollen, red eyes are awful. If your eyes are the main target of your allergies, eyedrops may be the way to go.

Common OTC antihistamine eye drops are:

  • Naphazoline HCL (Clear Eyes)
  • Phenylephrine HCL (Refresh)
  • Tetrahydrozoline HCL, oxymetazoline HCL (Visine)

If your antihistamine eye drops sting or burn, try putting them in the refrigerator.

You can also use refrigerated artificial tear drops before using the antihistamine eyedrops.

Possible side effects include:

  • Burning/stinging/irritation of the eye
  • Headache
  • Stuffy/runny nose,
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Increased sensitivity to light

Name Brand vs. Generic Brand

Among the sea of antihistamines, you’ll also notice that there are name brand medications and pharmacy brand antihistamines.

The next thing you’ll notice is a price difference. As a general rule, pharmacy brands are cheaper than the name brands.

In your hunt for the best over the counter antihistamine medication, you’ll probably wonder if pharmacy brand is just as effective as name brand medication.

The good news is, if you’re looking to save some pennies, generic brands will work just as effectively as name brand products.

The most important thing to look for is the active ingredient.

Though antihistamines like Allegra, Claritin, and Zyrtec fall under the same family, they all have different active ingredients.

Which Active Ingredient is Best?

The one answer everyone wants but impossible to give.

There are multiple options for antihistamines because everyone reacts differently to the ingredients.

Allegra may work well for some while Zyrtec will work best for others.

Unfortunately, when shopping for the best over the counter antihistamine, it’ll be a trial-and-error process.

We can provide the guide, but you’ll need to try out medications to find what works best for you.

Dr. Daniel Ein, a clinical professor of Medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine says it best:

“My rule about the best one antihistamine is: It’s the one that gives you (the individual) the greatest relief with the fewest side effects at the lowest price.”

If you’re really unsure and need help choosing, you can always ask the pharmacist working in the store you choose. They’ll be happy to help you figure out what you need.

A Recap

There are many antihistamine options for you to choose from to get relief this allergy season. Antihistamines are branded as:

  • First generation
  • Second generation

For OTC options, there are:

  • Oral medications
  • Nasal sprays
  • Eyedrops

With these three choices, it’s easy to cover all your base symptoms.

As with all medications, it’s important to be aware of the side effects that come with them.

With antihistamines, drowsiness and fatigue are especially important to be aware of. Make sure to check the label for side effects before making your purchase.

There is no one-size-fits-all antihistamine. The best way to find what medication works for you is to try different brands. If one doesn’t work, move onto the next.

If a brand does work, keep using it. No need to change it.

Where do your symptoms typically manifest?

Itchy eyes?

A runny nose?

A combination of everything?

What works best for you? Is there any medication you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!

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