Oral Antihistamines for Atopic Dermatitis

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Oral Antihistamines for Atopic Dermatitis


Generic NameBrand Name
cetirizine [less sedating]Zyrtec
fexofenadine [nonsedating]Allegra
loratadine [nonsedating]Claritin

How It Works

Antihistamines reduce itching by blocking chemical (histamine) processes in an allergic reaction. But histamines are not always involved in atopic dermatitis itch, so these medicines may not help all people who have the condition.

Why It Is Used

For many years, oral antihistamines (taken in pill form) have been used to reduce the itch caused by atopic dermatitis. Sedating antihistamines, which make you sleepy, have been favored for treating children who cannot sleep because of severe itching at night.

How Well It Works

Some people report an improvement in symptoms when they take an antihistamine with corticosteroid treatment. An antihistamine that causes drowsiness can be helpful if itching results in sleep problems.

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:

  • Feeling drowsy.
  • 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

If you use antihistamines, carefully follow the directions on the label. Check with your child's doctor before you give them to your child. Children tend to be more sensitive to the effects of antihistamines.

Doses of antihistamines must be carefully adjusted for each person. These medicines are unlikely to stop atopic dermatitis itch but can be useful for inducing sleep when itching is severe.

Avoid using antihistamines that are applied directly to the skin. You may accidentally apply too much medicine, which can be harmful.

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 ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerAmy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
Last RevisedMay 14, 2012

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