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Popular Over-the-Counter Oral Antihistamine Brands

About antihistamines

When you have an allergic reaction, your body releases a substance called histamine. Histamine causes allergy symptoms when it binds to receptors on certain cells in your body. Antihistamines work by decreasing the effects of histamine at certain cell receptors.

That means over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines can help treat symptoms such as:

  • congestion
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • itching
  • nasal swelling
  • hives
  • skin rashes
  • itchy and watery eyes

Read on to learn how the different brand-name antihistamines can help treat your allergy symptoms.

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First generation brands

First-generation antihistamine brands

First-generation OTC oral antihistamines, including diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine, are the oldest group. They are sedating, which means they’re likely to make you drowsy after you use them. They also don’t last as long in your system, so they require more frequent dosing than the newer generations. The brands include:

Benadryl

The first-generation antihistamine diphenhydramine is the main active ingredient in Benadryl. Benadryl relieves runny nose, sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, and nose or throat itching. These symptoms may be due to hay fever, other upper respiratory allergies, or common cold. Benadryl can also be used to treat hives and to reduce redness and itching. It comes in a tablet that you swallow whole, a tablet that dissolves in your mouth, a capsule, a liquid-filled capsule, and a liquid.

Other common OTC brands that include the antihistamine diphenhydramine include:

  • Banophen
  • Siladryl
  • Unisom
  • Benadryl-D Allergy Plus Sinus
  • Robitussin Night Time Cough and Cough
  • Sudafed PE Day/Night Congestion

Chlor-Trimeton

Chlorpheniramine is the main active ingredient in Chlor-Trimeton. It relieves runny nose, sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, and nose and throat itching from hay fever. It also helps relieve other respiratory allergies. It comes in a tablet you swallow whole, a tablet you chew, a capsule you swallow whole, and a liquid you swallow.

Other common brands with chlorpheniramine as a main active ingredient include:

  • Aller-Chlor
  • Chlorphen-12
  • Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold Medicine Liqui-Gels
  • Allerest Maximum Strength
  • Comtrex

Side effects

Some of the more common side effects of first-generation antihistamines may include:

  • dry mouth, nose, and throat
  • drowsiness
  • headache

Some side effects that are not as common include:

  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • constipation
  • chest congestion
  • muscle weakness
  • hyperactivity, especially in children
  • nervousness

Some serious side effects may include:

  • vision problems
  • trouble urinating or pain with urinating

These side effects are more common in older people.

Warnings

If you have an enlarged prostate that makes it difficult for you to urinate, you should talk to your doctor before using first-generation antihistamines. These drugs can make this symptom worse. You should also talk to your doctor before using these drugs if you have any of these health concerns:

  • trouble breathing from emphysema or chronic bronchitis
  • glaucoma
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • seizures
  • thyroid problems

If you take other drugs that can make you drowsy, such as sedatives or tranquilizers, talk to your doctor before using first-generation antihistamines. You should also avoid drinking alcohol with an antihistamine because it can increase the side effect of drowsiness.

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Second and third generation brands

Second- and third-generation antihistamine brands

The newer second-generation and third-generation OTC oral antihistamines were developed to target their action on more specific receptors. This helps decrease side effects, including sedation or drowsiness. These drugs also work longer in your body so you need fewer doses.

Zyrtec

Cetirizine is the main active ingredient in Zyrtec. It temporarily relieves runny nose, sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, nose or throat itching from hay fever and other upper respiratory allergies. Zyrtec can also be used to relieve redness and itching due to hives. Zyrtec comes in a tablet that you swallow whole, a tablet that you chew, and a syrup that you swallow.

Other common OTC brands with cetirizine as the main active ingredient include:

  • Aller-Tec
  • Alleroff
  • Zyrtec-D
  • Wal Zyr-D
  • Citiri-D

Side effects

Some common side effects of Zyrtec may include:

  • drowsiness
  • headache
  • stomach pain

Serious side effects may include difficulty breathing or swallowing.

Warnings

Talk to your doctor if you use the bronchodilator theophylline. Zyrtec can interact with this drug and increase your risk of side effects.

Avoid taking Zyrtec with alcohol. Although cetirizine causes less drowsiness than a first-generation antihistamine, it can still make you drowsy. Drinking alcohol while you take it can increase this drowsiness.

Talk to your doctor before using Zyrtec if you have liver or kidney disease. Liver and kidney disease can both affect how your body processes and removes cetirizine. You should also talk to your doctor before using Zyrtec if you have asthma because these drugs have been shown to cause bronchospasms in rare cases.

Claritin

Loratadine is the main active ingredient in Claritin. It relieves runny nose, sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, and itching of the nose or throat due to hay fever and other upper respiratory allergies. Claritin can also be used to treat hives. It comes in a tablet that you swallow whole, a tablet that dissolves in your mouth, and a syrup that you swallow.

Loratadine is also the main active ingredient in these other OTC brands:

  • Claritin-D
  • Alavert
  • Alavert-D
  • Wal-itin

Side effects

Some of the common side effects of Claritin may include:

  • headache
  • drowsiness

Serious side effects may include:

  • hives
  • rash
  • itching
  • trouble breathing or swallowing
  • swelling of your face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes
  • hoarseness

Warnings

Talk to your doctor before using Claritin if you have asthma, liver disease, or kidney disease. This drug has been shown to cause bronchospasms in rare cases. Liver and kidney disease may affect how your body processes and removes Claritin. This can cause more of the drug to stay in your body and increase your risk of side effects.

Allegra

Fexofenadine is the main active ingredient in Allegra. It relieves runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and itching of the nose or throat due to hay fever or other upper respiratory allergies. Allegra can also be used to treat hives and skin rash. It comes in a tablet that you swallow whole and a liquid that you swallow.

Fexofenadine is also combined with other active ingredients and used in OTC cold and flu medicines. The common brand names of these drugs are Allegra-D and Wal Fex-D.

Side effects

Some of the common side effects of Allegra may include:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • pain in your arms, legs, or back
  • pain during menstrual periods
  • cough

Serious side effects of Allegra may include allergic reaction. Symptoms include:

  • hives
  • rash
  • itching
  • trouble breathing or swallowing
  • swelling of your face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes

Warnings

Talk to your doctor before you use Allegra if you take the antifungal ketoconazole, the antibiotics erythromycin or rifampin, or any antacids. These drugs can all interact with Allegra to either increase your risk of side effects or decrease the effectiveness. Fruit juice can also decrease the amount of Allegra that your body absorbs. This can decrease effectiveness.

Also, you should talk to your doctor before using Allegra if you have kidney disease. Kidney disease interferes with your body’s removal of Allegra. This can lead to an increased risk of side effects.

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Takeaway

Things to consider when choosing an antihistamine

You have a choice from several brand-name antihistamines, including:

  • Benadryl
  • Chlor-Trimeton
  • Zyrtec
  • Claritin
  • Allegra

If you take other medications to treat allergy symptoms, make sure the active ingredients are not the same or in the same drug class. Always check with your doctor about taking an OTC medication if you take other drugs.

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