What Are Antihistamines Used For? Answering the FAQs
Allergy is a common chronic disease that affects one in three Australians at some point in their lives. It starts when your body becomes sensitive to things around you, like plants, foods, animals and medicines. When your body is exposed to allergens, it starts releasing a chemical called histamine. It is what makes you sneeze, your eyes and skin itch, your nose run, red and swollen. In a way, it’s trying to get you to sneeze out or scratch away the allergen. Luckily, the symptoms of allergic reactions can be treated easily and effectively using a group of medicines called antihistamines.
What is Antihistamine?
Antihistamine meds block the body’s response to histamine. This helps reduce the severity of the reaction and eases the symptoms of allergy. This medication is commonly used for the treatment of a number of conditions related to allergies and hypersensitivities such as allergic conjunctivitis, asthma, hay fever, hives, eczema and reactions to bites and stings. Oral antihistamines can be used to treat all symptoms of an allergic reaction. Eye drops and nasal sprays are also available and are used for treating specific symptoms only.
How do Antihistamines Work?
Antihistamine medications don’t cure allergies. Their purpose is to prevent a reaction from happening or to treat symptoms during a flare-up. Generally, they are classified into two main groups – sedating and sedating antihistamine medications. The sedating group can make you feel quite drowsy or sleepy, so they are used when the effect of drowsiness is helpful to the condition being treated, such as in some skin conditions where itching can disturb your sleep. Non-sedating formulas are less likely to cause drowsiness but it can still occur in some people and may affect their performance.
Antihistamine tablets start working within 30 minutes after being taken and are known to be most effective within 1-2 hours. The medication tends to be more effective when taken regularly as prevention before symptoms occur, rather than only when you have symptoms. In other words, taking the medication regularly will help keep your symptoms under control. If you have allergies, you have a range of choices for OTC medication. This includes brands like Claritin and Zyrtec.
Is Claritin an Antihistamine?
Claritin is an antihistamine that treats symptoms of runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and itching of the nose or throat due to hay fever or other upper respiratory allergies. It can also be used to treat hives. The main active ingredient in Claritin is Loratadine and it is available in the form of tablets, capsules and syrup. If you have liver or kidney disease, talk with your doctor before using Claritin. Kidney and liver disease can both affect how your body processes and removes loratadine. This can cause more of the medication to stay in your body and can increase your risk of side effects. Also, talk to your doctor if you have asthma. In rare cases, loratadine has been shown to cause bronchospasms.
Is Zyrtec an Antihistamine?
Zyrtec is another antihistamine medication that helps relieve itching, runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing caused by different types of allergies. Cetirizine is the main active ingredient in Zyrtec and it is available in the form of tablets, capsules, and syrup. Like with Claritin, if you have liver or kidney disease, talk with your doctor before taking this medication. Liver and kidney disease can both affect how your body process and removes cetirizine. Also, talk with your doctor before using Zyrtec if you have asthma. In rare cases, cetirizine has been shown to cause bronchospasms.
If you aren’t sure which medications might be best for you, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Also, if you take other medications to treat allergy symptoms, make sure the active ingredients are not the same or in the same class as the active ingredient in the antihistamine you want to take. It isn’t recommended to take too much of a particular drug. To help prevent this from happening, always check with your doctor or pharmacist.
What are the Side-Effects of Antihistamines?
Some people may experience headache, drowsiness, tiredness, dry mouth or an upset stomach. The good news is that these side-effects usually don’t last long. Still, if you use antihistamine allergy medications, be careful when operating machinery as even non-sedating formulas can make some people drowsy.
Can You Take Antihistamines When Pregnant?
Oral antihistamines, like Zyrtec and Claritin, are safe to take when pregnant. So are nasal sprays. In fact, nasal sprays are better as they are focused only in your nose – they don’t travel through your body. Considering the fact that taking decongestants during the first trimester may cause some birth defects, watch out for antihistamine medication containing a decongestant in their composition. If your symptoms aren’t bad, your doctor may suggest other treatments instead, like allergy-proofing your home or relying on saline nasal sprays. But if your allergy symptoms are more serious, taking medication may be better for yours and your baby’s health.