Ah-ah-choosing the Right OTC Allergy Meds

Seasonal Allergies | Medications | Pharmacy | SpotRx

Sunny skies … Two-digit, balmy temperatures … Cool breezes … Arizonans know all too well that sense of urgency to get outside and enjoy our mild spring weather before the summer heat sets in. But, as we head outdoors, bam! Beautiful desert blooms and dust have us eye-rubbing, sneezing, wheezing, itching and ‘headaching’ our way through spring.

To find relief, you may head to the nearest drug store or pharmacy. There you’ll find a myriad of over-the-counter (OTC) pills, liquids, nasal sprays, eye drops, inhalers and creams — but what medications may be right for your symptoms?

First, it’s important to understand what actually causes your allergy symptoms. Most common seasonal allergies are a result of the body’s immune system overreacting to an exposure to a particular pollen or allergen. The immune system identifies that foreign substance as harmful and produces antibodies to attack the allergen … ultimately resulting in those annoying symptoms. Here, we breakdown the different types of OTC medications available for seasonal allergy sufferers:


Histamine is a chemical that the body releases into the bloodstream to fight off pollen, dust and other allergens. Antihistamine medications do exactly as they suggest: they block the histamine from releasing to avoid symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, skin hives, etc. Antihistamines are commonly available in pills, liquids, eye drops and nasal sprays.


If you suffer from sinus and/or nasal congestion, a decongestant may help. Congestion is caused by inflamed blood vessels in the nose and airways. Decongestants reduce that swelling to provide relief from a stuffy nose, sinus pressure and headaches. Similar to and many times combined with antihistamines, decongestants are available in the form of pills, liquids and nasal sprays.


If an antihistamine doesn’t relieve your symptoms — a corticosteroid may help. A cortisone-like medication, corticosteroid is designed to reduce inflammation associated with allergies and relieve pain. You can take corticosteroids in pill and liquid form, via an inhaler or nasal spray, or topically as a cream or ointment applied to an affected area.

Mast Cell Stabilizers

For asthma-like allergy symptoms, like wheezing, mast cell stabilizers may be an effective option. Mast cells actually contain histamine and other chemicals that cause most allergic reactions, and are responsible for releasing those chemicals when the body is exposed to allergens. Stabilizers prevent mast cells from breaking open and releasing the chemicals that promote inflammation and trigger allergy symptoms. Mostly available in eye drops and nasal sprays, this solution does take more time before the full effects are felt.

Nasal Irrigation

If you don’t like the idea of taking OTC medications, nasal sinus irrigation may be an option for you. This home remedy uses a saltwater solution to flush out nasal passages. Using a clean neti pot, syringe or squeeze bottle, this therapy involves pouring the solution into one nostril and flushing it out, along with the allergens, through the other nostril.

Still Not Sure?

If you try any of the above remedies and still suffer from allergy symptoms after a few weeks, or if you’re concerned with medication interactions or side effects, consult with a doctor or pharmacist. A health care provider is most qualified to provide the best recommendations based on your specific symptoms and concerns.

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