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Seasonal Allergy

The Best Seasonal Allergy Medications: Comparing Types

Seasonal allergies, better known as hay fever, pollen allergy, and allergic rhinitis, develop when an individual’s immune system overreacts to an environmental allergen. An allergen is defined as anything that the body identifies as foreign or dangerous and triggers an immune response. As this happens, chemicals known as histamines are released into the bloodstream, which produces an allergic reaction.

The tell-tale symptoms and signs of seasonal allergies include sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy eyes. Moreover, extreme cases can cause other health issues, such as cough, fever, and respiratory discomfort, which adversely affect school performance, work, and rest.

There are numerous seasonal allergy medications available to treat and manage these symptoms. However, with so many choices available, there’s a good chance you might be taking the wrong one for your specific condition.

This article compares the different seasonal allergy medications so that you can choose one that’s best suited to you.

Types of Seasonal Allergies

Depending on what triggers an individual, all four seasons can cause allergies:

Season Allergen
Spring Tree, Grass Pollen, Weed Pollen
Summer Grass Pollen, Fungus Spores, Mold
Fall Weed Pollen, Mold, Dust
Winter Weed Pollen, Mold, Dust

Different Medications to Treat Seasonal Allergy

Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription seasonal allergy medication are available in the form of pills, syrups, eye drops, inhalers, nasal sprays, skin creams, and injections. Here’s an overview of the different types of allergy medication and their specific use.


Antihistamines block the symptom-inducing chemical histamine released by the immune system in response to an allergic reaction.


  1. Oral: OTC and prescription antihistamine pills and liquids alleviate symptoms such as a runny nose, watery/itchy eyes, inflammation, and other symptoms of allergies. Some cause drowsiness (Diphenhydramine and Chlorpheniramine) while others don’t (Cetirizine, Desloratadine, Fexofenadine, Levocetirizine, and Loratadine).
  • Nasal Sprays: help manage sneezing, a runny/itchy nose, post-nasal drip (Azelastine and Olopatadine)
  • Eye Drops: OTC and prescription antihistamine eye drop help ease itchy/red/inflamed eyes (Ketotifen, Olopatadine, Pheniramine, and Naphazoline). They are usually a combination of antihistamines and other constituents.

Potential Side Effects

How Long Does it Take to Work?

One to three hours.


Antihistamines are quite low-cost, with Diphenhydramine (50 mg) being the cheapest antihistamine at $0.37.


Decongestants provide quick and temporary relief from nasal and sinus congestion. However, they are not suitable for people suffering from hypertension, glaucoma, cardiovascular disease, or hyperthyroidism.


  1. Oral: pills and liquids alleviate nasal and sinus congestion due to hay fever (allergic rhinitis). Various oral allergy medications combine a decongestant and an antihistamine (Cetirizine and Pseudoephedrine, Desloratadine and Pseudoephedrine).
  • Nasal Sprays and Drops: reduce nasal and sinus congestion but must be used for a short period (Oxymetazoline and Tetrahydrozoline). Repeated or prolonged use (generally more than three successive days) can relapse or worsen the congestion. Examples include.

Potential Side Effects

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate

How Long Does it Take to Work?

10 to 30 minutes.


$10 to $20.


Corticosteroids suppress allergy-related inflammation.


  1. Oral: prescription pills and liquids used to treat severe symptoms of all kinds of allergic reactions (Prednisolone, Prednisone, Methylprednisolone).
  • Nasal Sprays: inhibit and alleviate sneezing, stuffiness, and a runny nose (Budesonide, Fluticasone furoate, Fluticasone propionate).
  • Inhalers: available on prescription and used regularly to treat allergic asthma complicated by airborne allergens (Beclomethasone, Budesonide, Fluticasone).
  • Eye Drops: relieve continuously itchy, inflamed, or watery eyes if other medications aren’t effective (Fluorometholone, Loteprednol, Prednisolone).
  • Skin Creams: available in varying potencies and relieve itchy, inflamed, or scaling skin (Betamethasone, Desonide, Hydrocortisone).

Potential Side Effects

  • Nasal sprays: nosebleeds, nasal irritation
  • Inhalers: Mouth/throat irritation, oral yeast infections
  • Eye drops: Cataracts, glaucoma, infection
  • Oral: Muscle weakness, stomach ulcers, osteoporosis, increased blood sugar, delayed growth in children
  • Topicals: Skin discoloration, irritation, thinning of the skin, abnormal hormone levels

How Long Does it Take to Work?

About two weeks.


$10 to $100.

Leukotriene Inhibitors

Leukotriene inhibitors are prescription drugs that block symptom-inducing chemicals known as leukotrienes.


This oral medication alleviates nasal congestion and provides relief from a runny nose and sneezing. Only one drug, Montelukast (Singulair) has been approved for treating hay fever.

Potential Side Effects

How Long Does it Take to Work?

Three days to two weeks.

Allergen Immunotherapy

Allergen immunotherapy involves gradual and timely exposure to the increased potency of common seasonal allergens. The purpose is to train the immune system to become resistant to these allergens. It is generally used when other treatments fail to provide relief.


  1. Injections: series of allergen shots (once or twice weekly) where the dose is gradually increased based on the patient’s resistance. Shots of maximum tolerable dosage are then given every four weeks all year round.
  • Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT): the allergen is absorbed into the body via an allergen-based tablet placed under the tongue. This treatment helps reduce nasal congestion, eye irritation, and asthma. A form of SLIT tablet contains dust mites (Odactra), while many others contain pollens and grass extracts.
  • Biological Medications: injections that target and prevent a specific immune reaction. These include Dupilumab for treating allergic skin reactions and Omalizumab for treating asthma/hives.

Potential Side Effects

  • Shots: irritation at the injection area, sneezing, congestion, hives
  • Biological Medications: itchiness/redness/irritation in the eyes, irritation at the injection area.

How Long Does it Take to Work?

Treatment requires years to take effect.

Emergency Epinephrine Shot

Epinephrine shots are used for providing instant relief from anaphylaxis, an abrupt, life-threatening allergic reaction.


The drug (Epinephrine) is administered via a self-injecting syringe and needle device known as an auto-injector. In severe cases, a second injection might be needed; call for immediate emergency medical care if the situation worsens.

Examples of auto-injector devices include Adrenaclick, Auvi-Q, EpiPen, and EpiPen Jr.

Potential Side Effects

How Long Does it Take to Work?

30 to 60 seconds.


Epinephrine Shots are very expensive, some costing up to $600.

Which Seasonal Allergy Medicine Works Best?

If you’re wondering how to cure seasonal allergies with the best medicine from above, here’s the simple answer: you can’t cure your seasonal allergy but you can effectively manage it. Moreover, the best seasonal allergy medicine depends on your symptoms, individual preferences, and overall health.

Other things to consider before opting for a seasonal allergy medication are how quickly you want relief, the possible side effects of the medication, and its cost.

While fast-acting medications such as decongestants and antihistamines provide rapid relief from symptoms, the latter can be taken regularly whereas decongestants should only be used for short-term relief.

Moreover, antihistamines and nasal steroids are good options for preventing symptoms of seasonal allergies in advance and can be taken daily before the allergy season. Currently, experts recommend intranasal steroids for people with recurring symptoms.


There are various options for treating seasonal allergies, including those meant for specific symptom relief. However, bear in mind that not all seasonal allergy medication is created equal. Some might cause drowsiness, some might affect sleep and appetite, and some might induce other unpleasant symptoms.

It’s best to consult a health professional about your specific seasonal allergies for advice on what medication is best for you. Also, keep track of your symptoms and when they occur. This will help the doctor determine when you should use your medication and how much you require.

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 09/12/2022

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  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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