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  1. Consumer Updates

Know Which Medication Is Right for Your Seasonal Allergies

Photo graphic, main image of dandelion blowing in wind. Top inset photo of man rubbing watering eyes. Bottom inset photo of woman standing in field of flowers and sneezing.


The pollen count is sky-high. You’re sneezing, your eyes are itching, and you feel miserable. Seasonal allergies are real diseases that can interfere with your life.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis, the medical term for seasonal allergies and hay fever, can also trigger or worsen asthma and lead to other health problems, such as sinus infections (sinusitis) and ear infections. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates several medications that offer allergy relief.

An allergy is your body’s reaction to an otherwise innocent substance that it has identified as an invader. If you have allergies and encounter a trigger (allergen), your immune system fights it by releasing chemicals, such as histamine (hence the term “antihistamine”). Histamine causes symptoms, such as runny nose, itchy nose, sneezing, and itchy and watery eyes.

Seasonal allergies are usually caused by plant pollens. They are:

  • Tree pollen in the early spring.
  • Grass pollen in the late spring and early summer.
  • Weed pollen, including ragweed, in the late summer and fall.

Certain molds may also cause seasonal allergy symptoms. Pollen counts vary by region, depending on climate.

You can take some measures to avoid pollen and mold exposure. They include:

  • Close windows at home and in the car.
  • Shower before bed to remove allergens from the skin and hair, reducing the contamination of bedding.
  • Stay indoors if your symptoms are severe.

But it is not always practical or possible to stay indoors when pollen counts are high. So, your health care professional may recommend prescription or nonprescription (over-the-counter, or OTC) medicines to relieve allergy symptoms. Here’s a closer look:


Antihistamines reduce or block symptoms caused by the chemical histamine. Many oral antihistamines are available in generic and nonprescription forms, including tablets and liquids. When choosing a nonprescription antihistamine, read the Drug Facts Label closely and follow the dosing instructions.

Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness and interfere with your ability to drive or operate heavy machinery, like a car. Some others don’t have this side effect. Non-sedating antihistamines are available by prescription and nonprescription. Antihistamine nasal sprays are also available.

Nasal Corticosteroids

Nasal corticosteroids treat inflammation and reduce allergy symptoms, including nasal congestion. They are typically sprayed into the nose once or twice a day.

Side effects may include stinging in the nose, nosebleeds, and growth effects in some children with long-term use. Nasal corticosteroids are available by prescription and nonprescription. Talk to your health care professional if your child needs to use a nasal corticosteroid spray for more than two months of the year.


Decongestants are drugs available by prescription and nonprescription and come in oral and nasal spray forms. They are sometimes recommended in combination with other allergy medications for short periods of time.

Decongestant drugs that contain pseudoephedrine are available without a prescription. But they are kept behind the pharmacy counter to prevent their use in making methamphetamine—a powerful, highly addictive stimulant often produced illegally in home laboratories. You will need to ask your pharmacist and show identification to buy drugs that contain pseudoephedrine.

Using decongestant nose sprays for more than a few days may give you a “rebound” effect; your nasal congestion could get worse. Consult with your health care professional if using an oral or nasal decongestant for more than two to three days.


“Allergy shots” are a form of allergen immunotherapy, in which your body responds to injected amounts of allergens, given in gradually increasing doses, by developing a tolerance.

Patients can receive injections from a health care professional. A common course of treatment would begin with weekly injections of gradually increasing doses for three to six months until the effective dose is reached. After that, treatment would continue monthly for three to five years.

Another form of allergen immunotherapy involves administering the allergens in a tablet form under the tongue (sublingual) and is intended for daily use, before and during the pollen season. This type of immunotherapy is available only by prescription for the treatment of seasonal allergies caused by certain pollens and has the potential to dial down the immune response to allergens.

But sublingual immunotherapy is not meant for immediate symptom relief and should start three to four months before allergy season. Although they are intended for at-home use, the first doses are to be taken in the presence of a health care professional.

Allergy Medicines for Children

Always read the Drug Facts Label before buying a nonprescription medicine for you or your children. Some medicines can be used in children as young as age 2, but others may have different dosing instructions for children younger than 12 years.

Your doctor or health care professional may recommend other medicines that are prescription only. Talk to your doctor to see what medications are right for you.

If you have questions about any medication, you may contact the FDA’s Division of Drug Information at 1-855-543-3784 and 1-301-796-3400, or druginfo@fda.hhs.gov. Our pharmacists are experts at interpreting information for the public.


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