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Second-Generation Antihistamines are a Better Choice for Allergy Medication to Avoid Drowsiness

When it comes to allergy medication, everyone affected has a favorite choice to help their symptoms. For children especially, there are some important considerations that make second-generation antihistamines the smartest option. Read on to learn why doctors recommend certain allergy medications over others.

What Are Antihistamines?

Allergy medications work by blocking the side effects of histamine, a chemical produced by the immune system to fight allergens and germs. When histamine is activated in the body due to an allergy or sickness, a person may experience symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, and coughing. This is why allergy medications are called antihistamines – they work to counter these symptoms, making the person feel better.

There are two generations of antihistamines: the first generation was developed in the 1940s and is still in use today. Benadryl and Nyquil are two popular brands containing first-generation antihistamines. The generic name for the active ingredient in these medications is diphenhydramine. The second wave, developed in the 1980s, includes brands like Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), and Claritin (loratadine). These second-generation medications are the ones recommended by many doctors and healthcare providers today.

Why Second-Generation Antihistamines?

It might be surprising to learn that longtime household names that use first-generation antihistamines are no longer the preferred options for allergy relief. However, there are several very important reasons to choose second-generation antihistamines instead:

So, How Do I Find the Right Medication?

This is where it can get a bit complicated. After all, over-the-counter medications do not readily indicate whether they are first- or second-generation antihistamines. So, you want to spend some time in the pharmacy aisle and check out the active ingredient lists on packaging before choosing your allergy relief drug. Here are the most common ingredients that tip you off to the med’s generation:

First-Generation Antihistamine (Consider Avoiding) Second-Generation Antihistamine (Preferred*) 
diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl and others)cetirizine (such as Zyrtec and others)
brompheniramine (such as Dimetapp and others)fexofenadine (such as Allegra and others)
dimenhydrinate (such as Dramamine and others)desloratadine (such as Clarinex and others)
doxylamine (such as Unisom and others)levocetirizine (such as Xyzal and others)
*We do not endorse any particular brand of product

(Phew! What a mouthful!) If you’re unsure, you can always ask the pharmacist for assistance. Also, your doctor or pediatrician is a great resource for guidance on choosing the right allergy medication for you and your family.

Remember, not all allergic reactions are created equal. Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening reaction that includes symptoms like wheezing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, swollen lips/eyes, confusion, and dizziness. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should call 911 immediately and use epinephrine (“Epi Pen”) if available to you.

Want to learn more about allergies and allergy relief? Check out this blog from Dr. Christina about seasonal allergies in kids.