Antihistamines for Allergic Rhinitis

Browse By All Topics


Antihistamines for Allergic Rhinitis


Older (first-generation) over-the-counter and prescription antihistamines

Generic NameBrand Name
brompheniramine maleate 
chlorpheniramine maleateChlor-Trimeton
clemastine fumarateTavist-1
diphenhydramine Benadryl
hydroxyzine Vistaril

Newer (second-generation) over-the-counter antihistamines

Generic NameBrand Name
cetirizine Zyrtec
fexofenadine Allegra
loratadineAlavert, Claritin

Newer (second-generation) prescription antihistamines

Generic NameBrand Name

Antihistamines may be available as tablets, capsules, nasal sprays, or liquids. You can use them alone or combined with decongestants to treat allergic rhinitis.

How It Works

Many symptoms of allergic rhinitis, such as sneezing, itching, and runny nose, occur when your body releases a chemical called histamine. Antihistamine medicines block histamine and may reduce your symptoms.

Why It Is Used

You can use antihistamines to stop or reduce sneezing, runny nose, and watery and itchy eyes caused by an allergic reaction.

How Well It Works

All of these antihistamines work equally well to relieve sneezing, itching, and runny nose.

  • Antihistamines begin to provide relief in 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  • Antihistamines dry up the runny nose caused by allergies, but they usually do not clear up stuffiness.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Fever.
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising.
  • Belly pain.
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Dry mouth, nose, or throat.
  • Stomach upset.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

In general, antihistamines don't relieve nasal congestion well. They are often combined with a decongestant in one product. These medicines may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerRohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Last RevisedMay 14, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use.

How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2012 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.