Medications for Allergy and Asthma

Medication as treatment for allergy and asthma:
Specific treatment with medications will be determined by your physician(s) based on:

  • your overall health and medical history
  • extent of the allergic disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications
  • expectations for the course of the allergic disease
  • your opinion or preference

You should also consult your physician before taking any over-the-counter medications for allergy or asthma.

For people who suffer with asthma and allergies, there are many effective medications for treatment of symptoms. This is a brief overview of the most commonly used types of medications:

What are antihistamines?
Antihistamines are used to relieve or prevent the symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and other allergies. They work by preventing the effects of histamine, a substance produced by the body during an allergic reaction. Antihistamines come in tablet, capsule, liquid, or injection form and are available both over-the-counter and by prescription.

Many antihistamines cause drowsiness, but newer ones (terfenadine, astemazole, loratadine, and others) rarely cause this side effect. Other common side effects include dry mouth, difficult urination, constipation and confusion. Some people may experience nightmares, unusual excitement or nervousness, restlessness or irritability.

What are decongestants?
Decongestants are used to treat nasal congestion and other symptoms associated with colds and allergies. They work by narrowing blood vessels, leading to the clearing of nasal congestion. Decongestants are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. The most commonly used forms are liquid and tablet. Nose sprays or drops may be used for acute situations, but should be used for only a few days in a row, or as prescribed by your physician. Over-the-counter nasal sprays, if used for a prolonged period of time, may cause "rebound rhinitis" or nasal congestion symptoms.

Decongestants may cause nervousness, sleeplessness, or elevation in blood pressure. If the nasal spray form is used too long, it may cause even more nasal congestion.

What are types of inhaled medications?

Inhaled corticosteroids:

  • Corticosteroids, also called steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, reduce the inflammation in the airways. They reduce the number of mast cells in the nose, and lessen the swelling and mucus production. They may be prescribed in an oral or inhaled form.

    Long-term oral corticosteroid use may cause side effects such as ulcers, weight gain, cataracts, weakening bones, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and easy bruising.

Possible side effects from inhaled anti-inflammatory medications include coughing and hoarseness.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications:

  • Cromolyn sodium is a preventive nasal spray used for inhibiting the start of allergic rhinitis. It works on stopping the release of histamine from the mast cells. Another example is nedocromil.


Bronchodilators are used to relieve coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and difficulty in breathing. They work by opening up the bronchial tubes -- the air passages in the lungs -- so that more air can flow through.

Bronchodilators include:

  • beta-agonists
  • anticholinergics

They come in inhaled, tablet, capsule, liquid, or injectable forms. Bronchodilators may cause nausea, vomiting, headache, nervousness, restlessness, and insomnia, especially in elderly patients and children who are more sensitive to the effects of medications.

Talk with your physician for more information before taking any asthma or allergy medications.