What are the Pros and Cons of over-the-counter versus prescription allergy medications?

Lego Allergy Medication Picture - LocateADo.com
Come spring and allergies get to have a free-run. Be it tree pollens, weeds or dust, one is never fully safe from allergens. The first instinct when in the grip of an allergy is to immediately buy an over-the-counter medicine to control the symptoms. Over the counter medications are the drugs which can be obtained without a prescription. The use of such drugs is legal and does not need any approval from physician.
Allergy medicines are available in the form of pills, liquids, nasal sprays, inhalers, eye-drops, creams and injections. There are two main types of allergy medicines available in drug stores – Antihistamines and decongestants. 


Antihistamines block histamine, a chemical agent which is produced during an allergic reaction. These medicines work mainly for watery eyes and runny nose, sneezing, itchiness of nose and eyes. Antihistamines are available in drowsy, non-drowsy and minimal drowsy formulations. 
Note: You must never take a medicine which causes drowsiness when you have to drive a vehicle or operate machinery. 
OTC antihistamines: Allegra, Zyrtec, Benadryl, Chlor-trimeton, Tavist, Claritin, Ocu-tist. Prescription anti-histamines: Xyzal, Astelin, Clarinex, Optivar, Patanol


Decongestants help in the relief of congestion. These medicines are usually prescribed in combination with antihistamines to treat allergy symptoms. These medicines may come in the form of nasal sprays, liquids, pills or eye-drops. Nasal sprays and eye-drops should be used for not more than three days. Decongestants such as Sudafed pills or liquids, Afrin nasal sprays and visine eye drops can be found as OTC drugs. Combination drugs like Allegra-D can be prescribed or bought as OTC medicine. 
There are many good allergy drugs which have been shifted from prescription drugs to OTC segment. While some OTC medicines for allergies are preferred over prescription medicines, it is best to discuss the choice of OTC medicines with your provider. Here are some facts which can help you in making your choice:
OTC drugs are good for treating occasional and mild symptoms of allergies - It means that if your symptoms flare up for only few weeks during allergy season, or if they exist for predictable time or occasion, then OTC medicines may be all that you need. In such cases, you can take OTC antihistamines (like Allegra, Zyrtec and Claritin) and decongestant like Sudafed. 
You must not over-use OTC medicines - Read and follow the instructions on the label of your OTC medicine. You must not use any decongestant or a combination of antihistamines with decongestant for more than a week.  If you use a decongestant nasal spray, you should not use it for more than three days. 
Prescription medicines help in the relief of severe symptoms - If you suffer from severe symptoms of allergy, you may require strong drugs for which you require prescription from a physician.  For example, steroid nasal sprays like Nasonex or Flonase help control an allergic reaction from occurring. These drugs play a significant role in treating allergic rhinitis symptoms. 
All medicines have side-effects - Nearly all medicines have side-effects. They may interact with other medicines. So, if you are already taking any daily supplement or medicine, read the label for drug interactions or discuss with your provider. Oral decongestants may also affect people who suffer from high blood pressure, insomnia, arrhythmia, glaucoma and enlarged prostrate. It is therefore advised for such patients to take advice from physician before taking any OTC medicines for relieving allergy symptoms.
OTC allergy medicines work well but it is always good to visit a doctor. Discuss with doctor for your set of symptoms and then you can try a medicine for some time. If you don’t get relief, ask him/her to try a different one. With knowledgeable advice, you can figure out which is the best way to tackle your allergy symptoms. Of course the best approach to prevent allergies is to avoid triggers, but it is not always possible. Another option is to take allergy injections which may immune you to your allergens over a period of time. Discuss with your doctor about the pros and cons of particular allergy treatments. Together, you can develop a better allergy treatment plan for you!

Learn more about the risk factors, symptoms, diagnostic tests, management and treatment options as well as how to select a doctor in our Allergies Resource Guide and look through our LocateADoc.com profiles to find a specialist in your area.


Photo By Eje Gustafsson [Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/macahanc6r/]