Antihistamines in Cold Season You may still need them!

Dec 4, 2013

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Cough and cold season is here in full swing. However, it is quite easy to mistake allergies for a common cold of flu as the symptoms can be similar. The easiest rule is if your mucous is somewhat clear or your eyes are watery and itching; allergies are to blame. Usually allergies do not cause a cough, unless there is nasal drip. If you are prone to allergies take the medication before the symptoms arise rather than treating them as they develop. You will have much more symptom control. For example, if you notice allergies flare at a certain time of year, start taking an antihistamine a week or two before this would normally occur. If you time it right you may not notice any seasonal allergies at all. While most seasonal allergies are attributed to pollen in the spring and an increase of dust in the fall allergies can continue to be present in the wintertime.

If you suffer from allergic rhinitis, which includes runny nose, sneezing, itching and watery eyes; an oral antihistamine is likely the best product for you.While you should always consult your pharmacist before trying an antihistamine for the first time, here are some recommendations.

Oral antihistamines are divided into two classes; 1st and 2nd generation, both having very similar effectiveness. The first generation which includes Benydryl, may cause some drowsiness, work impairment or slow reaction time. For this reason we almost always recommend the 2nd generation such as Reactine, Claritin or Aerius. Another benefit to 2nd generation is they usually only need to be dosed once per day. Most antihistamines are available as store brand products. These products are much cheaper than the name brand product and use the exact same medical ingredients, so they are a product I highly recommend.

It is important to note while antihistamines dry the running nose, they do not have a decongestant effect. You can either find a tablet with an antihistamine and decongestant combination or you can use a decongestant spray. Oral decongestants should be the first choice, but their use in someone with high blood pressure or other related health issues can be dangerous. Decongestant sprays can and will cause re-bound congestion if used for more than three days, so caution must be used. Many decongestants are also found in cough, cold and flu treatments so it is important to know what is in the medication you are taking. Always consult a pharmacist before selecting a product with decongestants.

Another reason to visit the antihistamine area is for a rash or skin irritation. If the rash is localized we will sometimes recommend a mild steroid cream or a topical antihistamine. Benedryl cream is the most common, is fairly safe and does a good job of reducing the reaction and any itching which may be present. It is also a good option for mosquito bites if you are susceptible to reacting to them. If the rash is on a significant portion of the body, for example on two arms or across the back, I usually recommend an oral antihistamine. Remember it is always important to consult with your physician to find out what you are reacting to.


The best oral antihistamine for a rash is probably a first generation antihistamine like diphenhydramine. The first generation pills seem to be work faster than something like Reactine or Claritin. I would also recommend these products for mild bee sting reactions and mild hive breakouts, because you want to treat the reaction quickly. Remember, diphenhydramine and other medications in its class can make you drowsy so be cautious and consult your pharmacist if you have any questions.

Remember if you have severe allergies which could cause anaphylaxis: which includes trouble breathing, anxiety, palpitations and hives covering the body, you need to carry an Epi Pen just in case. No pill or cream can treat an anaphylactic allergic reaction.

If you are suffering from runny nose, sneezing, itching, watery eyes and are not sure if it is a cold or allergies, speak to your pharmacist.


The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.


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