Mentally, you’re outside enjoying the warm weather. Physically, you’re congested, sneezing, and coughing. You know the feeling, right? Yep, it's allergy season. That's when the best allergy medicine can come in handy.
Thankfully, OTC allergy medications are as effective as most prescription ones, says Evan Li, MD, an assistant professor of medicine, immunology, allergy, and rheumatology at the Baylor College of Medicine. Actually, many of them used to be prescription meds, points out Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist with Allergy & Asthma Network. That’s right—it’s possible to find something that delivers maximum relief in your local pharmacy. That said, if you continue to have serious symptoms, consult with your doctor.
So, how often can you take allergy meds? It’s safe to take antihistamines daily, says Rabia Chaudhry, MD, an allergist and immunologist at South Florida Food Allergy Center. And many allergy meds work almost instantly. “Oral antihistamines can begin working 20 to 180 minutes after ingestion, while nasal steroids work best when used daily,” she says.
What if your nose is still making you miserable after you took an antihistamine, though? You can definitely take more than one med at a time. “It’s not uncommon for a patient with severe allergies [to take] daily nasal steroids and oral antihistamines,” says Dr. Chaudhry.
But with so many OTC medicines to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. Here’s how to find the right allergy medicine for you and recommendations from the pros.
There are certain ingredients that you should look for when you’re reading labels. If you’re shopping for an OTC allergy medication in pill form, you want to “look for ingredients that indicate there are antihistamines,” Dr. Li says. Here’s a list of active ingredients to search for:
For nasal sprays, you’ll want to look for steroids. “These are generally the most effective nasal sprays and do not cause rebound nasal congestion,” Dr. Li says. (Rebound nasal congestion or rebound rhinitis, ICYMI, is when the lining inside your nose becomes inflamed after using certain medications like decongestants for too long.) Instead, Dr. Li recommends keeping an eye out for these ingredients:
Pro tip from Dr. Parikh: “Avoid anything with decongestants, because they can make symptoms worse and have side effects.” If you feel like you really need to use a decongestant, it’s important not to do it for more than three days in a row. Otherwise, you run the risk of rebound congestion, Dr. Li says.