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Posted by James Ryan

Antihistamine tablets vs nasal sprays

A lady holding an antihistamine tablet and another lady taking in a nasal spray
5 minute read

It may not be your favourite time of the year, but allergy season is a period you’ll likely witness at some point. In Ireland, around 1 in 10 people experience symptoms of allergic rhinitis annually.

The good news is, whether managing tree pollen in May, grass pollen during summer or mould spores released through autumn—different options are available to control the uncomfortable symptoms of a hay fever reaction.

In particular, antihistamine tablets and nasal sprays are popular options to manage sneezing, itching, and other effects of allergic rhinitis. The question is, which treatment is better for you, and how do they compare against each other?

This guide will examine the benefits of antihistamines and nasal sprays for controlling allergy symptoms. We’ll compare both treatments and explore avenues to receive care for seasonal allergies.

What are Antihistamines?

Antihistamines relieve symptoms that result from exposure to pollen and other allergens.

To understand how, it’s essential to know what occurs when your body comes in contact with perceived irritants like elm, alder, or willow pollen typically released in springtime.

While pollen is largely harmless, the body wrongly interprets these foreign objects as dangerous, and prepares to fight them off.

This response triggers your immune system to release chemicals called histamines to eliminate pollen or whatever allergen is present. These histamines are to blame for the sneezing, coughing, and other allergy symptoms you’re all too familiar with—which is where antihistamines come in.

Antihistamines are prescription or over-the-counter medications capable of blocking or working against the effects of histamines.

This medicine relieves hay fever symptoms such as congestion, watery eyes, runny nose, and nasal passage swelling. They are also helpful in managing motion sickness and even adult sleep problems.

Types of Antihistamines

When choosing antihistamine medication, there are generally two options: drowsy and non-drowsy antihistamines.

Drowsy antihistamines

As the name suggests, drowsy antihistamines can induce sleepiness after use. For the most part, this form of allergy medication is best suited when symptoms disturb sleep.

If itching, sniffing, and other discomforts from hay fever prevent or interrupt your rest, experts may recommend a drowsy option.

Non-drowsy antihistamines

This medication manages hay fever without the challenge of fighting sleep off during the day.

If you're experiencing allergy symptoms but prefer to stay alert while working or at school, non-drowsy antihistamines are a good choice.

In addition to tablets, antihistamines are available as liquids, syrups, creams, gels, eye drops, lotions, nasal drops, and nasal sprays.

As with any medication, you may experience mild side effects when using drowsy or non-drowsy antihistamines. These effects include dry mouth, headaches, blurred vision, difficulty urinating, or a general sick feeling.

Nasal sprays

If antihistamines fail to get allergies under control, a second option can go right under your nose to manage symptoms.

Nasal sprays are particularly effective for managing allergy reactions in the nose, such as sneezing, congestion, inflammation, or a persistent drip.

Depending on the option used, sprays may target histamine release, nasal blood vessels, or other uncomfortable effects responsible for allergy symptoms.

Types of nasal sprays

In Ireland, allergy season can sometimes feel like a year-long affair. Different nasal sprays are available to manage hay fever symptoms, whether during peak pollen periods like spring, or through grass pollen release from May to September.

Saline sprays

A basic allergy treatment, this solution is made up of salt and water alone. But, before turning your nose up at it—this treatment is capable of rinsing allergens away from the nose, easing congestion, and softening mucus.

Steroid sprays

Steroid sprays are a first-line treatment for allergy symptoms. This measure relieves congestion, sneezing, itching, and a runny nose by reducing inflammation and mucus in the nasal passage.

While these sprays can sometimes provide immediate relief, observing benefits after 1-2 weeks isn't uncommon.

Antihistamine sprays

Antihistamine sprays are a prescription-only measure against allergies. This treatment can relieve major allergy symptoms like congestion, sneezing, and a persistent drippy nose.

Compared with tablet alternatives, studies show that antihistamine sprays are more effective, and can prove quicker to act.

To select the better option for you, a chat with a GP can help to weigh the benefits of either antihistamine therapy for seasonal allergies.

Decongestant sprays

Decongestant sprays are available over-the-counter to manage nasal clogging. They work by reducing swelling within the nose that prevents easy breathing caused by hay fever.

Whether as solo therapy or combined with other allergy treatments, nasal sprays should be applied with caution. Users have reported a bitter taste or smell, throat dryness, and headaches after using certain sprays.

Likewise, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s essential to seek medical advice before beginning allergy treatment with nasal sprays. The same goes for anyone with diabetes, glaucoma, or tuberculosis, considering a spray to manage hay fever.

Antihistamine tablets vs nasal sprays

When allergy season is in full bloom, a top priority is managing hay fever symptoms sooner .

As the most common allergy treatments, antihistamine pills and nasal sprays are valuable therapies for allergic rhinitis. But while equally capable, expert opinions have ranked nasal sprays as a preferred option to address signs of a hay fever reaction.

Nasal sprays operate more quickly than antihistamine pills to relieve allergy symptoms. In particular, research has shown that steroid sprays are more effective than antihistamine pills for improving nasal obstruction, itching, sneezing, and overall quality of life when managing allergic rhinitis.

But to properly decide between antihistamines and nasal sprays for disruptive allergy symptoms, it’s always best to seek expert guidance. A consultation with a healthcare provider can clarify the best treatment options to manage seasonal allergy symptoms.

Where can I get allergy treatment in Ireland?

Antihistamine tablets and nasal sprays are popularly available over the counter as standard allergy relief measures. In some cases, however, these treatments may require a prescription.

You can request your usual allergy prescription medication by filling out our questionnaire. Once approved, your prescription will be sent to a pharmacy of your choice within 24 hours.

But, if you're unsure and looking to decide between the best treatment for your allergies—a virtual consultation with our GPs can give an informed opinion on the preferred choice to manage hay fever.

Playing it by the ear

On the plus side, there’s no shortage of treatments to manage the allergy symptoms we all love to hate.

However, to properly manage your body’s reaction to pollen, dust mites, or pet dander, choosing between common treatments like antihistamine pills and nasal sprays shouldn’t be a guessing game.

With convenient access to both treatment measures, expert input should be combined with personal preferences to frame the decision you make.