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What is the Best Non-Drowsy Antihistamine?

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Approximately 24 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever, a condition that affects both children and adults. People with indoor and outdoor allergies can feel miserable during allergy season or even throughout the year. 

Several drugs are available for treating allergies, but many of them cause drowsiness or grogginess as a side effect. Drowsiness may not be problematic if you only have to take allergy medication a few times a year. However, for people who rely on allergy medicines chronically for symptom relief, this sedative side effect can have a negative impact on their daily lives by reducing productivity at work and school, not to mention the safety issues while driving or performing activities requiring mental alertness. The good news is that some over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications are less sedating than others.  

Please continue reading to learn about some of the best non-drowsy medicines for allergy relief.

What causes perennial allergies and seasonal allergies? 

Indoor allergies can result from dust, pet dander, mite droppings, mold, and cockroaches inside the home. Some allergies, such as pet allergies, can be present year-round. Severe allergies can cause difficulty breathing and exacerbate asthma attacks. 

Common outdoor allergens that cause allergies include pollen and mold spores. Geographical location and weather play a role in the severity of allergies, which can worsen in hot, dry climates or windy areas. 

What are common allergy symptoms?

Allergies can cause multiple symptoms. Common pesky allergy symptoms include a runny nose, itchy nose, sneezing, nasal and sinus congestion, watery eyes, postnasal drip, and throat irritation. 

Allergy medications called antihistamines can provide relief from many of these symptoms. The active ingredients in these drugs work by blocking the effects of a natural substance in the body called histamine. While encountering an allergen, the immune system releases histamine, which is responsible for allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny, itchy nose, sinus pressure, and stuffiness.

What are the side effects of antihistamines?

Side effects of first-generation antihistamines include drowsiness or sleepiness, blurred vision, dry mouth, and urinary retention. The non-drowsy antihistamines are also known as second or third-generation antihistamines. These newer generations of antihistamines are referred to as the “non-drowsy” allergy medicines, though, it is not entirely factual. Drowsiness is still a possible side effect of the newer antihistamines; they are just a lot less sedating compared to their older counterparts. 

Other notable advantages with newer antihistamines is that they do not cause constipation, urinary retention, and dry mouth. 

Are non-drowsy antihistamines as effective? 

Non-drowsy allergy medicine can be very effective in treating hay fever without making you sleepy. However, some people can take advantage of the drowsy side effect.

For example, if your allergy symptoms make it difficult for you to sleep, an antihistamine like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) might be a better choice to treat allergy symptoms. Your pharmacist can recommend the best OTC allergy medications for your symptoms. 

What are the most effective antihistamines for seasonal allergies?

Antihistamines for allergy relief are available as pills, chewable tablets, and liquid medicines (oral antihistamines), as well as nasal sprays and eye drops. They can provide relief from common allergy symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes, and throat irritation. They also work well for allergic reactions (hives, skin rashes, itchy skin, swelling, and other symptoms).

Over-the-counter medications

First-generation antihistamines - OTC allergy medicines that can make you drowsy:

Second- and -third generation antihistamines - OTC allergy medications that are less likely to make you sleepy:

Antihistamine eye drops and nasal sprays can also be used to relieve allergy symptoms:

What is a fast-acting allergy medicine?

Non-drowsy allergy medicines that can provide quick relief from symptoms of indoor and outdoor allergies, like cetirizine (Zyrtec), loratadine (Claritin), and fexofenadine (Allegra) take about the same amount of time to start working. Using a combination pill containing a decongestant with an antihistamine or using a decongestant nasal spray can provide quicker relief temporarily.

What is the strongest antihistamine (allergy medication) available over the counter?

Everyone is different, with different specific allergies. You may find one antihistamine works better for you than others. It can take some trial and error to find the best allergy medicine that gives you relief from common allergy symptoms during allergy season. 

If you have severe symptoms, talk to your doctor about prescription allergy medicines to relieve congestion, itchy nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and other symptoms. 

In the most severe cases, doctors sometimes recommend allergy shots, which consist of injections given over a period of 3-5 years to control allergies. These injections contain small amounts of allergens (substances that trigger allergies) to slowly desensitize your body to them.

Which non-drowsy antihistamine is the best allergy medicine?

There is data suggesting that levocetirizine (Xyzal) is more potent than other agents. However, there are no head-to-head studies comparing second and third-generation antihistamines. All of the newer antihistamines like fexofenadine (Allegra Allergy), cetirizine HCl (Zyrtec), levocetirizine (Xyzal), and loratadine (Claritin) are good choices if you are looking for a non-drowsy OTC allergy medicine without having to worry about dry mouth and urinary retention. 

Antihistamine nasal sprays like olopatadine (Patanase) can also effectively relieve symptoms like sinus congestion and nasal allergy congestion. 


  1. https://aafa.org/allergies/allergy-facts/#
  2. https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/conditions-library/allergies/indoor-allergens-ttr
  3. https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/conditions-library/allergies/outdoor-allergens-ttr
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/allergies/in-depth/allergy-medications/art-20047403
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antihistamines/