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Top 13 OTCs for Seasonal Allergies

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 22, 2024

According to the CDC, about one-quarter (25.7%) of adults have seasonal allergies. These allergic reactions are commonly linked to specific triggers, depending on the area, weather, and specific environmental factors. Identifying these triggers is crucial for effectively handling and alleviating the related discomfort.

Managing seasonal allergies often involves using over-the-counter (OTC) medications. However, with a wide array of options available, selecting the appropriate remedy can be overwhelming.

This article will explore the top 13 OTC remedies for seasonal allergies. We'll also discuss when seasonal allergies happen, their common triggers, how to avoid them, and a buying guide to help individuals find the proper medication to treat their allergy symptoms.

Common Seasonal Allergy Triggers

Seasonal allergies are often caused by exposure to pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. The timing of allergy seasons depends on when these plants pollinate:

Spring

Allergies are often triggered by birch, oak, elm, and maple tree pollen. Mold spores thrive in spring's warmer, more humid weather. Also, grass pollens emerge later in spring and into summer.

Summer

Grasses continue releasing pollen during the summer. Mold spores peak in hot, humid summertime conditions.

Campfire smoke can trigger allergies and asthma symptoms. Insect bites and stings from bees, wasps, and other Hymenoptera insects also peak in the warmer months.

Fall

Ragweed pollen is the main culprit for seasonal allergies, especially in late summer and early fall when ragweed blooms. Other fall allergy triggers include tumbleweed, Russian thistle, burning bush, and sagebrush.

Allergies to pine trees, pine scent, and wreaths tend to worsen during Thanksgiving to Christmas when these are common holiday decorations.

Winter

Fireplace smoke and ash may cause issues for people sensitive to these allergens over winter when fireplaces are used more frequently.

Year-Round

Excess indoor moisture can cause mold spores, leading to perennial allergies. Signs of problematic indoor moisture include high humidity, water damage, and poor ventilation.

Chlorine from indoor and outdoor pools can cause allergy and asthma symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Also, candy ingredients like chocolate, food dyes, and nuts may cause allergic reactions, especially around holidays like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter, when candy consumption increases.

Climate Factors

These include cool nights/warm days, wind, and rainfall, which can also influence the timing and severity of seasonal allergy symptoms in different regions.

💡 Did You Know?

According to the CDC, boys (20%) have a higher likelihood of experiencing seasonal allergies compared to girls (17.7%).

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Top 13 Best Medicines for Seasonal Allergies Available Over the Counter

We understand the challenges of dealing with seasonal allergies, especially when finding the right over-the-counter medicine for quick relief. Fortunately, we have dedicated time to researching and compiling a list of the 13 best medicines available without a prescription for seasonal allergies.

In choosing these medications, we've looked closely at how they work, their proven results, and their effectiveness. Whether one is seeking a medicine to tackle the sudden onset of allergy symptoms or looking for a solution to manage them throughout the season, the top recommendations are listed for their convenience.

See prices for Claritin on Amazon

Claritin offers an effective solution for seasonal allergies for adults and children over six. Its active ingredient is 10 mg of loratadine, which effectively alleviates sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and throat irritation. A pack of 70 tablets costs around $70.

Claritin needs to be taken once daily for 24-hour allergy-relief benefits. Also, its non-drowsy formula means people can function at their best during the day. However, those with liver or kidney conditions should take caution and consult their doctor before taking this medicine.

Pros

  • Provides 24-hour allergy relief
  • No sedating side effects
  • Works for indoor and outdoor allergies
  • Suitable for adults and children aged six and above

Cons

  • It is not as potent as other allergy medications, according to some reviews
See prices for Zyrtec on Amazon

Zyrtec 24-Hour Allergy Relief Tablets are a great solution for those seeking effective respite from relentless allergy symptoms. Each tablet contains 10 mg of cetirizine hydrochloride, which helps relieve allergy-related discomfort and is available for around $35 for a pack of 90 tablets.

This medicine starts working in the first hour, providing strong protection against allergies all day. Zyrtec offers quick relief for people six and older and works well if taken regularly.

This medication should be taken regularly for its full benefits.

Pros

  • Cost-effective solution for allergy relief
  • Provides consistent 24-hour relief
  • Versatile availability in tablet, gel capsule, and orally disintegrating tablet forms

Cons

  • Possible side effects include drowsiness and fatigue
  • Potential for causing a runny nose
See prices for Allegra on Amazon

Allegra claims to act more quickly than Claritin and, unlike Zyrtec, does not cause drowsiness. It contains 180 mg of fexofenadine, a non-drowsy antihistamine. A 70-tablet pack of Allegra costs around $24.

In one dose, Allegra provides powerful 24-hour relief from allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. And since it has no sedative effects, individuals can go about their day free from allergies without feeling drowsy or sluggish.

Although rare, its potential side effects include headaches, drowsiness, dryness in the mouth, mild nausea, and occasional dizziness. Additionally, it is advised to take fexofenadine only on days when allergy symptoms are present. Alternatively, it can be taken daily to maintain control over allergies.

Pros

  • The non-sedative formula ensures alertness
  • Guarantees 24-hour relief from a single dose
  • Begins providing relief within the first hour

Cons

  • The size of the tablets might be challenging for some to swallow
  • Some users report an unpleasant aftertaste
See prices for Nasacort on Amazon

Nasacort is an intranasal steroid with 55 mcg of the active ingredient triamcinolone acetonide, which offers 24-hour relief from allergy symptoms. It helps improve nasal discomfort, such as congestion, sneezing, and a runny or itchy nose.

It's also non-drowsy, scent-free, and alcohol-free. Also, it has a non-drowsy formulation that allows individuals to maintain daily activities without hindrance. Nasacort, priced at approximately $17, offers a cost-effective nasal allergy treatment with its generous supply of 240 sprays per container.

However, remember that getting its full benefits might take around a week. Also, it’s advised to use it regularly regardless of symptoms to enjoy long-lasting relief.

Pros

  • Provides relief from a variety of nasal allergy symptoms
  • Offers 24-hour protection period
  • Non-drowsy formula
  • Free of scent and alcohol

Cons

  • Works mainly for nasal relief
  • It may take time to take effect
  • May cause a bloody nose
See prices for Astepro on Amazon

Formerly available only by prescription, a 200-metered dose nasal spray of Astepro can now be purchased over-the-counter for around $30. It has 0.05% azelastine, which helps alleviate common allergy symptoms, including nasal congestion, sneezing, a runny nose, and itchiness.

Astepro differs from nasal sprays like Flonase or Nasacort with its active ingredient, 9.15% Azelastine hydrochloride. This unique formula allows Astepro to be used as a standalone treatment for seasonal allergies or with other remedies.

The spray is designed with a palatable taste, which helps eliminate any lingering medicinal aftertaste. It’s also suitable for those as young as six years old. Its common side effects include mild drowsiness, dry mouth, and mild nasal discomfort.

Pros

  • Delivers swift, 24-hour symptomatic relief
  • Allows flexible dosing
  • Steroid-free and alcohol-free composition

Cons

  • It mainly focuses on nasal congestion and associated discomforts
  • A bit expensive
See prices for Flonase on Amazon

Flonase, known generically as fluticasone propionate, is a non-drowsy allergy medication for around $15. It contains 55 mcg of fluticasone and provides 24-hour non-drowsy allergy medicine formulated to stop the body's overreaction to allergens like pollen, mold, dust, and pet dander. It helps relieve nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, itchy nose, and watery, itchy eyes.

It’s formulated for adults and children over 12 years old and is used by administering one to two sprays in each nostril daily.

Possible side effects include mild nasal discomfort or a brief stinging sensation upon application. Also, for those who suffer from glaucoma or cataracts, have recently undergone nasal surgery, or have an unhealed nasal injury, it's advisable to seek a doctor's recommendation before using this medication.

Pros

  • Non-drowsy formulation is suitable for day-long use
  • Offers 24-hour relief from a range of allergy symptoms
  • Effectively relieves allergy symptoms

Cons

  • Some users may find the nasal spray application uncomfortable
  • Potential for nasal sensitivity or irritation
  • May cause a bloody nose
See prices for Claritin on Amazon

For those not fond of using tablets to relieve their allergies, the Claritin Cool Mint Chewables offers a refreshing alternative. It’s priced at approximately $20 for 24 tablets and is formulated for adults and children aged six and above. Each tablet contains 10mg of the active ingredient loratadine.

Infused with Coolfusion technology, these chewables offer 24-hour relief from the most taxing seasonal allergy symptoms, including the bothersome itchy throat. These chewables are efficient and come with a cool mint flavor.

Pros

  • Non-drowsy formulation
  • Convenient chewable tablets
  • Provides 24-hour relief from allergy symptoms
  • Ideal for adults and children

Cons

  • It may not be effective for extreme allergies
  • Contains aspartame, which some individuals might want to avoid
  • Cooling sensation might not be preferred by all users
See prices for Opcon-A in Amazon

When allergies strike, the eyes are often the first to feel the discomfort. Priced at around $10 for a twin pack, these eye drops contain 0.02675% naphazoline and 0.315% pheniramine maleate, in a 15 ml dual-action formula.

Opcon-A can relieve irritations from seasonal allergies, such as ragweed, pollen, grass, animal hair, and dander.

Also, while these drops offer effective relief, individuals must understand potential contraindications and precautions, especially if using other medications or when considering them for children.

To use, just dispense the drops in the affected eye(s) as needed, up to four times a day. After applying, gently close the eyes for one to two minutes to promote absorption.

Pros

  • Features a dual-action formula, targeting both itching and redness
  • Provides quick and effective relief of allergic symptoms in the eyes
  • Helps lessen the crustiness in the eyes, according to some reviews

Cons

  • Some inactive ingredients might cause sensitivity for particular users
  • Only relieves allergy symptoms in the eyes
  • Requires waiting for 10 minutes after application before wearing contact lenses
See prices for Xyzal on Amazon

These Xyzal Allergy tablets offer relief from common symptoms of seasonal allergies like sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and runny nose. With 5 mg levocetirizine as its active ingredient, these tablets provide convenience and an option for those looking to control allergy symptoms. An 80-tablet pack costs approximately $20.

Xyzal is suitable for ages 14 and above. Its side effects include drowsiness, cold-like symptoms, and fatigue. Also, drowsiness is more likely with Xyzal compared to second-generation antihistamines like Claritin and Allegra, so it's best to take it in the evening to avoid daytime drowsiness.

Pros

  • Offers 24-hour, all-day relief
  • Prescription-strength formula
  • Works quickly

Cons

  • Gives a drowsy feel
  • Best to be taken at night to avoid daytime drowsiness
See prices for Zaditor in Amazon

Whatever the season, Systane Zaditor Antihistamine Eye Drops are an excellent option for those struggling with itchy eyes caused by allergens. These over-the-counter eye drops contain 0.035% ketotifen and offer a unique, prescription-strength formula that aims to address the root of itchiness directly.

A single drop of Zaditor can offer relief for up to 12 hours. It works within minutes to treat issues like pet-related allergies or outdoor triggers. It’s priced approximately $10 for a 30-day, 5ml supply.

Also, these drops don't contain vasoconstrictors (agents that reduce blood flow), making them suitable for adults and children three and older.

Pros

  • Provides rapid relief for itchy eyes
  • Effective for up to 12 hours with just one drop
  • Safe formula without vasoconstrictors, suitable for children aged 3 and up

Cons

  • Only addresses allergy symptoms related to the eyes
  • Those who aren’t used to using drops may have a hard time administering them themselves
  • Not to be used while wearing contact lenses as the preservative in Zaditor may cause stains
See prices for Benadryl in Amazon

Benadryl Allergy Ultratabs relieve various symptoms associated with seasonal allergies and the common cold. It costs approximately $11 for a pack of 100 tablets. Each tablet contains 25 mg of diphenhydramine hydrochloride, an effective first-generation antihistamine, which can alleviate sneezing, runny nose, itchy throat or nose, and itchy, watery eyes.

These tablets are suitable for adults and children over the age of six. However, since they are first-generation antihistamines, they can cause drowsiness. So it’s best to take them at night, especially when allergies disrupt sleep.

Pros

  • Effective against a wide range of allergy symptoms
  • Suitable for both adults and children (ages six and up)
  • Small, easy-to-swallow tablets
  • It can aid in sleep due to its sedative effect

Cons

  • Not recommended for daytime use as it may cause drowsiness
  • It may interact with alcohol, sedatives, and tranquilizers, increasing drowsiness
See prices for Loratadine in Amazon

For those dealing with the nuisances of seasonal allergies, Amazon offers a pack of 300 10 mg loratadine tablets for around $10. These tablets also contain loratadine, the same active ingredient as Claritin. This medication provides 24-hour relief from prevalent symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, and an itchy throat or nose.

It also has a non-drowsy formulation suitable for adults and children aged six years and above.

Pros

  • Ensures continuous 24-hour symptom relief
  • Formulated to be non-drowsy
  • Suitable for combatting a range of indoor and outdoor allergens
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Some individuals might find it less potent than alternative allergy medications
  • Those with liver or kidney ailments should consult their doctor before use
See prices for Boiron on Amazon

AllergyCalm uses pure, active ingredients to address allergy symptoms. Its meltaway tablets dissolve in the mouth without water, making them effortless to take even at the initial onset of symptoms. It’s priced around $10 for a pack of 60 tablets. It also contains the following plant ingredients:

  • Allium cepa
  • Ambrosia artemisiaefolia
  • Euphrasia officinalis
  • Histaminum hydrochloricum
  • Sabadilla
  • Solidago virgaurea

Its formulation assures non-drowsiness, eliminating the risk of rebound congestion or interference with other medicines or supplements. Notably free from gluten and any artificial additives, each box provides 60 melt-away tablets suitable for adults and children as young as two.

However, since it contains homeopathic ingredients, it is not FDA-approved. This means Boiron tablets haven't been subjected to the same stringent testing and validation as standard medications.

Pros

  • Uses traditional homeopathic ingredients for relief
  • Effective against both indoor and outdoor allergens
  • Non-drowsy

Cons

  • It is not a one-dose medication for relief and needs to be taken three times a day
  • Not FDA-approved

The Bottom Line

With numerous over-the-counter options, managing seasonal allergies is more convenient than ever. Medications like Claritin and Zyrtec provide 24-hour oral relief, while nasal sprays such as Nasacort and Astepro address nasal symptoms without inducing drowsiness. Ocular allergies can be eased with specific eye drops like Opcon-A and Zaditor.

However, it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional before using these remedies to ensure they suit individual health needs and allergy profiles. Proper guidance in medication selection and usage promises a well-informed approach to seasonal allergy management, allowing for an uninterrupted daily routine even during peak allergy season.

FAQs on Seasonal Allergies

When do seasonal allergies start?

Allergy season varies based on specific allergens that trigger individual symptoms. In the U.S., spring sees trees releasing pollen, causing widespread allergies, while summer peaks with grass pollen and fall with ragweed pollen.

Those allergic to indoor allergens like dust mites might experience symptoms all year. However, due to high pollen counts, May is the toughest month for many US allergy sufferers.

Can children take OTC allergy medications?

Yes, children can take OTC allergy medications. However, the FDA advises checking the label to ensure it's appropriate for the child's age. Adults may also help a child with seasonal allergies naturally by avoiding their triggers.

Do I need a prescription for stronger allergy medications if OTC meds aren't working?

If over-the-counter allergy medications are ineffective or cause undesirable side effects, it’s best to consult a medical provider. A doctor can prescribe stronger alternatives or refer to an allergy specialist for tailored treatments, such as immunotherapy, to better manage a patient's symptoms.

Can I develop tolerance to my allergy medication?

Yes. There's a study that indicates long-term use of antihistamine medications can lead to patients developing a tolerance, meaning the drug becomes less effective over time. If tolerance to an antihistamine arises, adjust the dosage or pause for three to 14 days to restore its effectiveness.

Can I use a decongestant with an antihistamine or nasal steroid?

Yes, people can use a decongestant with an antihistamine and/or nasal steroid. Using them together can provide better relief than using the medications alone.

Can seasonal allergies trigger asthma symptoms?

Yes, seasonal allergies can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms for some individuals. Pollen can irritate airways, leading to symptoms like wheezing.

How can I differentiate between cold and seasonal allergies?

While colds and seasonal allergies can cause sneezing and a runny nose, colds are caused by viruses and may include a fever. In contrast, seasonal allergies last longer, recur during pollen seasons, and don't come with a fever.

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