Although many people think that allergies only flare up in the fall or spring, the reality is that seasonal allergies often affect people year-round, including winter.
Because some plants and trees do not go dormant during the winter in warmer climates, people exposed to such vegetation sometimes experience allergy symptoms during cold months. However, most often, winter allergies occur when people spend more time indoors, while cooped up in their homes and surrounded by allergens associated with dust, food, pollutants brought into the home , to other people, to animal dander or even to dander coming from outside. rodents or insects seeking refuge from the cold.
Regardless of the season that contributes to allergies, most people who suffer from them end up taking antihistamines to treat their symptoms.
What is an antihistamine?
When the body reacts to allergens such as pet dander or pollen, it is the result of a chemical called histamine, produced by the immune system. Some amount of histamine is okay, but symptoms like sneezing, coughing, congestion, watery eyes, and itchy skin are the result of the body producing too much histamine when it overreacts to something it considers a threat, even though most allergens are not.
An antihistamine is therefore a medication used against histamine to treat or prevent common allergy symptoms. “Antihistamines work by blocking the way the body responds to histamine,” says Farheen Mirza, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. Antihistamines are also commonly called anti-allergy medications or simply allergy medications.
There are first- and second-generation antihistamines that are distinguished by when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved them. There are also two different classifications or subtypes of antihistamines that have slightly different functions and target different symptoms or conditions. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the first subtype is called H-1 receptor antagonists or H-1 blockers, and the second subtype is called H-2 receptor antagonists or H-2 blockers.
What is the most common antihistamine?
Antihistamines are available in many forms, including nasal sprays, eye drops, pills, liquids, creams, and in more extreme cases as inhalers or injections. Some are available over the counter while others are available only by prescription.
“Examples of FDA-approved antihistamines include loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra), cetirizine (Zyrtec), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), levocetirizine (Xyzal), and hydroxyzine (Vistaril),” explains Matthew Rank, MD, a physician who works in the Division of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
Are antihistamines safe?
Although experts say antihistamines are considered safe and are commonly recommended by doctors to treat allergy symptoms, allergy medications have common mild side effects. These include drowsiness, headaches, and dryness of the nose, mouth, or throat. More rarely, antihistamines can also cause nausea, constipation or loss of appetite. Serious but rare side effects include blurred vision, muscle weakness, or difficulty urinating.
Anyone who experiences serious side effects from medications should consult their doctor immediately. For everyone else, antihistamines can provide much-needed relief from uncomfortable or debilitating allergy symptoms. “Antihistamines are important because they are used to treat allergy symptoms such as hives, congestion, runny nose, or sneezing,” says Mirza.
Rank agrees, noting that allergens that cause histamine release are everywhere and affect everyone differently, so there is a need for medications to treat them. “Antihistamines were developed to help reduce and relieve allergy symptoms and that’s what they do,” he says.
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