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Allergy Drugs: Prescription and OTC

Medical Editor:

Allergy medications overview

The arsenal of allergy drugs includes dozens of medications that relieve allergy symptoms when confronted with a trigger known as an allergen. That trigger could be something from a plant, such as pollen, or something from an animal (pet dander, dust mites, cockroaches). Other allergy triggers include certain fragrances or chemical substances.

What causes a person's allergic reaction is highly individual. But the reactions are often universal: swelling and inflammation, especially around the eyes, nose, and throat, usually accompanied by itching.

Some allergy medications work against the effects of histamines, which are released during an allergic reaction. Other medications reduce swelling, affect the immune system, or affect release of other substances associated with allergic reactions.

Many allergy drugs are available without a prescription.

For what conditions are allergy medications used?

The most common reason consumers turn to allergy medications is for seasonal allergy relief from seasonal allergic rhinitis. This condition is sometimes referred to as “hay fever” because it is triggered by the spring through fall appearance of leaves, grasses and weeds. Allergy medications are also used for perennial (year-long) allergy relief. Antihistamines are also useful in treating chronic urticaria, a skin condition characterized by a persistent, itchy hives. Corticosteroid ointments and creams – as well as nonsteroidal topical immunomodulators -- may be used for a variety of skin allergy conditions, including eczema or atopic dermatitis. Non-allergy-related uses for antihistamines include treating insomnia, migraine headaches, and motion sickness.

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