Safe Use of Antihistamines
Are you are one of the 50 million people in the
U.S. with allergies? Do you suffer with coughing, sneezing, itchy
and watery eyes, a runny nose, and a scratchy throat? If so, you may
take antihistamines to treat your symptoms.
Allergens are things you’re
allergic to. Examples include pollen, dust, pet dander, even foods
or drugs. When an allergen enters your body, your body releases
histamine. Histamine causes the familiar symptoms of allergies.
Antihistamines relieve symptoms by blocking histamine.
A lot of different antihistamines are
available. They fill the counters and prescription shelves at your
local drug store. New ones seem to appear all the time.
Antihistamines are found in many different forms for children and
adults: liquids, tablets, creams, nasal sprays, and eye drops.
There are two classes of antihistamines. They
work in different ways and have different side effects.
The older first-generation
antihistamines are also called sedating
antihistamines. They cause much more drowsiness and fatigue than
the newer antihistamines. (In fact, these antihistamines
sometimes are used as sleeping pills.) Side effects can include
dizziness, poor coordination, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting,
blurred vision, and trouble urinating. One antihistamine in this
group is diphenhydramine (Benadryl®). Others are brompheniramine
(Bromfed®, Dimetapp®), hydroxyzine (Vistaril®, Atarax®) and
The newer second and
third-generation or non-sedating
antihistamines are used much more frequently. Usually, they
don’t cause drowsiness. Antihistamines in this group include
cetirizine (Zyrtec®), loratadine (Claritin®), and fexofenadine
(Allegra®). In high doses, these antihistamines can still cause
drowsiness and rapid heart rate.
Some antihistamines may work better than others
for your symptoms. It can be hard to find the one that works just
right. If you are desperate (and still coughing and sneezing and
itching), you may be tempted to take too much. BUT – it can be
dangerous to take extra antihistamines. More is not better.
Do NOT “double-up” on a dose.
Do NOT take a dose sooner than you’re
Do NOT take two different antihistamines at
the same time.
Instead, talk to your doctor or pharmacist
if you have trouble finding a drug that works well for your
Antihistamines are safe when used as directed.
Otherwise, there can be problems:
Taking too much can be harmful for children
Some people abuse the sedating
antihistamines. They can cause seizures and hallucinations.
Some antihistamines are combined with pain
medicine. Taking another pain medicine at the same time could
cause an overdose.
Some antihistamines are combined with
decongestants. Taking another decongestant at the same time
could cause an overdose.
Follow these guidelines when using
Read labels carefully.
Some antihistamines should not be used
Some antihistamines can interact with
other medicines. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you
Different products may contain the same
ingredients. Taking them at the same time can be dangerous.
Take (or give) the right dose.
Lock antihistamines up high, where
children can’t reach them. Children can drink liquid
antihistamines, swallow too many pills, or even eat
antihistamine creams. Severe poisoning can occur this way.
Not sure which antihistamine is best for you?
For your child? Call your doctor or pediatrician. If you took too
much, or gave too much to your child, call the Poison Center right
away. The 24-hour number is 1-800-222-1222.
Specialists in poison information will tell you exactly what to do.