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Antihistamines or Decongestants: Which Does What?

So it's officially Spring (yippee!!) and the snow is melting away. The trees and grass and flowers will begin to grow and bud, and for people with seasonal allergies, this time of year can be a nightmare.

When someone has seasonal allergies, his or her immune system sees pollen as an invader. As a defense mechanism, their body produces histamine, an inflammatory chemical that attaches to the cells in their body and irritates them. The histamines are what cause the sneezing, runny nose, watery and itchy eyes.

When you take an antihistamine (like Benadryl or Claritin), it prevents the histamine from attaching to those cells, and therefore prevents allergy symptoms. Antihistamines can also relieve itchiness caused by insect bites, stings, poison ivy, and poison oak.

This is great, but most Antihistamines have the awful side effect of making you feel really drowsy and out of it. Your head just feels really foggy, like when you have a cold.

Want to know what a decongestant does? Then

Sometimes a person who has allergies can experience different symptoms. They may get an extremely stuffy nose and congested sinuses. This can affect a person's sense of smell and taste. Also, if the sinuses remained plugged, a person could develop a sinus infection, which can cause severe facial pain and headaches.

People with these symptoms might want to take a decongestant (like Sudafed or Allegra D - the "D" stands for decongestant). Decongestants work by narrowing the blood vessels in the lining of your nose. This reduces how much blood flows through the area so that swollen tissue inside the nose shrinks, and air can pass through more easily.

Decongestants work well to de-clog your nose and face, but they make your mouth and throat uncomfortably dry.

Allergies are different for everyone, and different over-the-counter medications may work better than others. You may want to try them all. Some medications combine both antihistamines and decongestants, which could prevent your symptoms, better than they could alone.

Fit's Tips: If you know what you're allergic to, you can work on avoiding that trigger. If you have allergy symptoms, but don't know what specific allergens are affecting you, make an appointment with an Allergist. You can also see one if you've been taking over-the-counter meds and your symptoms are still bothering you.

Join The Conversation
naked_american naked_american 10 years
I absolutely HATE antihistamines. I'd never taken them before growing up - my mom is adamantly against them since they pretty much stop the mucus flow (yum), rather than keeping things moving and can result in more problems - but I was really sick at work a few weeks ago and someone gave me some Dayquil. After taking only two doses, I felt like I had to pee for 3 days straight when I didn't.... very uncomfortable and annoying. Apparently this is a side effect for some when they use antihistamines... and obviously it is a very unpleasant one! The Dayquil got me through a couple hectic days of work, but afterward I was beyond beat. Not worth it! ---- "A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous." -Ingrid Bergman
Beaner Beaner 10 years
I've taken Claritan and Allegra before - the non-drowsy kind and they make me feel totally spacey. I HATE taking them.
bun_buns bun_buns 10 years
Fit, I think it's important to add that there are plenty of newer antihistamines (like Claritin and Allegra) that don't make you drowsy. These don't pass the blood-brain barrier so you won't have the drowsy side effect. Older drugs like Benadryl do pass through and will make you sleepy.
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