Is It Safe to Take Allergy Medications Every Day?

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Key Takeaways

  • Newer antihistamines like Allegra and Claritin are generally safe for daily use.
  • But allergy medications with decongestants, such as Claritin-D or Benadryl-D, could make your allergies worse with long-term use.
  • An allergist or immunologist can offer alternative treatments such as immunotherapy or allergen desensitization. 

Warming temperatures have increased pollen concentration and prolonged allergy seasons. If you have hay fever or eye allergies from pollen exposure, you might be taking daily over-the-counter antihistamines for symptom relief.

But is it safe to be taking allergy medications every day? We asked allergy experts for their advice.

For people with year-round symptoms, taking allergy medications every day may be necessary and it's safe, according to Yul D. Ejnes, MD, MACP, a board-certified internal medicine specialist and chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine.

However, Ejnes warns against the long-term use of antihistamines with decongestants—which are usually labeled with a “D" after the brand name—such as Benadryl-D or Claritin-D. The decongestants might not be suitable for people with high blood pressure, overactive thyroid, and heart problems in the long run.

Purvi Parikh, MD, a board-certified allergist and clinical assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, said that medications with decongestants can actually make allergies worse over time. This is a condition known as rebound congestion, where nasal congestion becomes more severe once the medication wears off. People can also develop an addiction to decongestants, she added.

What Are the Safest Allergy Medications for Long-term Use?

The main safety concern with antihistamines is drowsiness or sedation, as it might disrupt daily tasks such as driving, cooking, or anything that requires focus and sharp attention.

Enjes said newer antihistamines such as Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), and Allegra (fexofenadine) aren't sedative and shouldn't pose any problems.

Do Antihistamines Cause Dementia?

Some studies published in 2015 linked long-term antihistamine use to an increased risk of dementia, but this isn't really a concern with the newer class of drugs, according to Anil Nanda, MD, a board-certified allergist-immunologist.

The first-generation antihistamines were anticholinergics, which can block the action of a neurotransmitter that's responsible for involuntary muscle movements, digestion, and urination. Nanda said the 2015 studies examined the impact of these older antihistamines and the participants were mostly older patients who might have been already at risk of dementia.

However, many anticholinergics, including Benadryl, have sedative properties that can cause confusion and increase the risk of falls in older adults.

Are There Alternatives to Taking Daily Allergy Medications?

For those exposed to allergens every day, like pets or pollen, Nandas said it’s best to start with changes to your environment. For example, you could keep your windows closed during pollen seasons. Or, if you have a pet allergy, you can avoid sleeping with your pets or try to bathe them more often.

However, as a previous pet owner himself, Nandas said he understands how some of these changes may not be possible. Treatments like immunotherapy—an "allergy shot"—or allergen desensitization can help reduce or eliminate allergy symptoms over time by building tolerance in your immune system.

Nasal steroid sprays are also recommended by many allergy experts. Steroids often get a bad rap, but the steroids in nasal sprays are anti-inflammatory and they're much safer than steroid injections or pills, Nandas explained.

“Allergy medicines are not a one size fits all,” Nandas said. When trying to find the right treatment for your symptoms, visit an allergist or immunologist for the best recommendation tailored to your lifestyle and needs. 

What This Means For You

It's generally safe to take the newer generation of antihistamines daily if you have year-round allergy symptoms. But make sure to avoid anything that has a "D" in its brand name, which stands for decongestants. Long-term use of decongestants will worsen your allergy symptoms.

6 Sources
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