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Allergy Medications: Over-the-Counter

You can buy many allergy medications without a prescription. You may:

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

  • Use all medications exactly as instructed

  • If you have any questions about your allergy medication, ask your health care provider or your pharmacist

There are many OTC allergy medications 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 medication. For example, a steroid nasal spray and an antihistamine nasal spray.

Man and woman looking at allergy medications in a drug store

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 medications, ask your health care provider or pharmacist.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 5/12/2014
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