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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 read more

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.

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