Treat yourself with allergy and hay fever tablets

Hay fever and itchy eyes are never a pleasant experience, but fortunately there are over-the-counter allergy and hay fever tablets that can help alleviate mild allergic problems. The active substance in most allergy tablets is antihistamine, and they are used to treat many different types of mild allergies to, among other things, pollen, pets and dust mites.

Antihistamine tablets usually show a good effect on mild symptoms of short duration. They alleviate a runny nose, sneezing, nose itch and eye problems but do not work as well on nasal congestion. You may try to treat yourself with over-the-counter medicines for about two weeks, but if those are not sufficiently relieving you from symptoms you will need to contact a doctor.  It could be that you need other allergy tablets or a different type of medicine, for example nasal spray with corticosteroid and antihistamine. Remember that you should be completely free of symptoms in order for your allergy and hay fever to be well treated.

How do antihistamine tablets work?

When an allergen (irritating substance) from, for example, pollen or a pet, is carried in the air, it might stick to the body's mucous membrane of the eyes, nose or lungs. The immune system of a person who is allergic overreacts to the allergen, and specific mast cells will be releasing histamine and other substances. As the histamine is released the ability of the blood fluid to pass through the blood vessels increases, and that is what causes the nasal passage to swell and become congested. The histamine also stimulates mucous producing glands in the nasal passage which causes a runny nose.

Antihistamine tablets block the effect of the histamine that is released during the allergic reaction and thereby ease the symptoms. And the help they provide comes quickly - usually within the hour. Some older antihistamine tablets may cause tiredness and should therefore preferably be taken at night. Modern medicines, more recent antihistamines, rarely cause tiredness.

When the hay fever tablets do not help

For most people, taking over-the-counter allergy and hay fever tablets is not enough to feel completely well during their allergy. If that is your case, contact your doctor, so that you may get your allergy properly assessed and treated. The most common thing is then to combine the antihistamine with corticosteroid in order to treat the underlying inflammation caused by the allergy. The corticosteroid will reduce the inflammation in the mucous membrane of the nose and stop it from spreading, while the antihistamine will counteract the allergic reaction. A doctor can prescribe a nasal spray that combines corticosteroid and antihistamine if over-the-counter medicines have not helped you get rid of the allergy symptoms. The benefit of this combined medicine is that it works more rapidly - within 15 minutes - as well as it is effective against all common allergy symptoms including nasal congestion. 

If you are suffering from a very severe allergy, the doctor sometimes prescribes corticosteroid tablets. Since corticosteroids taken orally can affect other body processes, it is usually only taken as short courses under doctors supervision. 

It is important that you do not give up until you are completely free of symptoms. Allergic nasal symptoms that are not treated effectively might, in the long run, lead to asthma and chronic problems in the airways.

UK/GEN/15/0057e              Date of preparation: December 2015 

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