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Treating allergies with antihistamines

We evaluate the evidence and find the best medications

Published: July 2013

Seven newer or "second generation" antihistamine medications that are widely used to relieve the symptoms of hay fever (a type of allergic rhinitis), hives (urticaria), and other allergies. Studies have found these drugs to be equally effective and generally safe, but they can be misused.

Some people who take allergy medicines do not have allergies, so you should see your doctor for a diagnosis before taking antihistamines on a regular basis.

The newer antihistamines cause less drowsiness than the older ones, which include nonprescription drugs such as Benadryl Allergy, Chlor-Trimeton Allergy, and Dimetapp Allergy. But the newer drugs are no more effective than the older ones at relieving symptoms.

The monthly retail cost for the newer medicines varies from about $8 to more than $200, so price might be an important factor in your choice. This report shows how you could save hundreds of dollars a year or more if you currently take an expensive brand-name antihistamine. Taking dosing convenience, cost, and effectiveness and safety into account, we have selected the following as Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs:

  • generic cetirizine 10 mg tablets
  • generic loratadine 10 mg tablets
  • generic loratadine dissolving 10 mg tablets
  • Loratadine liquid 10 mg
  • Alavert dissolving 10 mg tablets

All are low-cost generics available without a prescription in pharmacies and other stores that sell medications. They have been shown to effectively relieve symptoms of hay fever, hives, and other allergies. Cetirizine is also available over-the-counter in soft gel capsule and liquid formulations for people who need those. You should also be aware that some people may respond well to one antihistamine while getting no benefi t from another. So if our Best Buy picks do not work for you, then try one of the other antihistamines.

Your insurance might not fully cover antihistamines or might charge you a higher than usual co-payment. Check with your insurer or health-plan administrator about its policy on antihistamines.

Editor's Note: These materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).
   

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