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Allergy Medicines: Over-the-Counter

Man reading over-the-counter medication box in pharmacy.You can buy many allergy medicines without a prescription. You may:

  • Use the over-the-counter (OTC) alone or with prescription medicine

  • Use all medicines exactly as instructed

  • If you have any questions about your allergy medicine, ask your healthcare provider or your pharmacist

There are many OTC allergy medicines including antihistamines, decongestants, and steroid nasal spray. And, there are combination products. For example, a pill with both an antihistamine and a decongestant. You may also be instructed to take more than one medicine. For example, a steroid nasal spray and an antihistamine nasal spray.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines block the release of histamine, the substance released by your body that causes many allergy symptoms. They help lessen sneezing, itching, and runny noses. 

Antihistamines:

  • Are available as pills, liquids, and nasal sprays.

  • May cause you to be sleepy

  • Should be taken as instructed

Decongestants

Decongestants reduce swelling of the nasal passages. They relieve pressure and pain in your sinuses.

Decongestants:

  • Are available as pills, liquids, and nasal sprays

  • Should not be used for more than a few days. Overuse can actually make your symptoms worse.

Steroid nasal sprays

Steroid nasal sprays are used for nasal allergy symptoms. They help to lessen nasal congestion and swelling, runny noses, and sneezing.

Steroid nasal sprays:

  • Shouldn't be used without your provider's advice

  • Can cause side effects, like nasal bleeding

  • Should be sprayed into the nose correctly

Make sure you read and follow the instructions on the label. If you have any questions about these medicines, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Blaivas, Allen J., DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Image reviewed by StayWell art team.
Last Review Date: 9/1/2016
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