Over-the-counter cold and flu medicines

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Antihistamines medicine

For nasal symptoms, including congestion or cold and sneezing, many people turn to antihistamines. Antihistamines are commonly used to treat allergic rhinitis. They work by blocking the histamine receptor, a chemical released in response to an allergen. 

Common antihistamines include:

  • Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
  • Chlortrimethone (chlorpheniramine)
  • Atarax / Vistaryl (hydroxyzine)
  • Zirtek (cetirizine)
  • Allegra. generic (fexofenadine)
  • Clarinex (desloratadine 
  • Claritin, Alavert, various generics (loratadin)
  • Xizal (levocetirizine) 

Antihistamines help relieve congestion associated with an allergic reaction, but their effect on the common cold is questionable.

Realized in 2015 Cochrane a review of 18 randomized controlled trials with more than 4,000 subjects showed that antihistamines can help relieve congestion better than placebo in the first two days of a cold, but not on the third day or later. 

Some antihistamines have side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, irritability, and constipation.

People with glaucoma, enlarged prostate, epilepsy, overactive thyroid, heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes should consult their healthcare provider or pharmacist before taking antihistamines. 

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