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Pick the Right Allergy Medication

field of pollen and tall grass for allergies in wisconsin

Benadryl® vs. Zyrtec® vs. Claritin® vs. Allegra® and more

Beth Coopman, PharmD, Network Health Pharmacist
Originally published on April 29, 2020, at 9:14 a.m. CST

Spring is here, and summer is right around the corner.

With the days getting longer and the weather warming up, we’ll be spending more time outdoors, which means individuals who suffer from seasonal allergies will begin to experience the telltale teary eyes, congestion and sneezing. While these symptoms can be annoying, when allergies are left untreated or not well managed, it can lead to more serious problems such as asthma, sinus infections, severe fatigue, headaches and even gastrointestinal problems.

In this three-month series of articles, we will be tackling the topic of seasonal allergies, giving you tips and tricks to stay ahead of your allergy symptoms to keep you as healthy and comfortable as possible, so you can get the most out of your spring and summer seasons.

Symptom Prevention as Allergy Treatment

Allergens can be anywhere and everywhere, so taking steps to control your environment and allergy triggers are key.

  • Remove clothes and shower when you enter your house after spending time outdoors
  • Don’t hang your clothes outside to dry
  • Ask a friend or family member to handle outside chores like mowing or weeding
  • Use your air conditioning and equip your home with high-efficiency filters to reduce pollen
  • Work around the weather
    • Stay inside on dry and windy days
    • Venture outside after it rains
    • Avoid morning outings, when pollen counts are the highest

Allergen avoidance alone may not be enough to manage symptoms. Over-the-counter (OTC) oral antihistamines can help with itching, runny nose and sneezing, but do not help with congestion.

For those who suffer from severe allergies, starting the medication a few days before allergen exposure can minimize initial symptoms. Individuals who suffer from less severe allergies can use medication as needed to reverse temporary symptoms for a short period of time.

Which allergy medications exist and which one is best for me?

As a reminder, generic products are comparable to brand name products and generics save you money.

Allergy medications can be broken down into first- and second-generation products. In general, second-generation products provide longer relief with fewer side effects compared to the first-generation options.

>>> READ MORE: 5 Tips for Surviving Spring Allergies <<<

First-generation oral antihistamines, such as Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton®, are known for having more side effects, but more rapid relief compared to second-generation products. Some of these potential side effects include drowsiness, constipation, difficulty urinating and dry mouth, which can lead to poor oral hygiene and cavities.

As we age, we become more susceptible to these side effects and can experience falls or confusion, which is a good reason to avoid use in older adults or limit to a short duration at the lowest effective dose.

Children may experience opposite side effects such as excitability, anxiety or insomnia.

Allegra vs. Claritin Vs. Zyrtec Vs. Benadryl and more

If continuous seasonal allergy treatment is needed, second-generation antihistamines like Allegra and Claritin are considered safer since they have a low risk for drowsiness. Zyrtec (cetirizine) is an exception to this rule, as it may cause drowsiness in about 10 percent of individuals.

If you use Allegra, please note grapefruit, orange and apple juice can decrease its effectiveness. If one medication does not bring relief, trying a different second-generation antihistamine may be helpful. See the table below for a more detailed comparison of this class of medications

Comparison of Oral Allergy Medications,

Brand name Generic name Age allowed Onset of effect Peak Duration Common side effects Cost 90ct


Claritin Loratadine 2+ yrs 1-3 hrs 8-12 hrs 24 hrs Headache $16
Zyrtec Cetirizine 2+ yrs rapid 1hr 24 hrs Headache


Allegra Fexofenadine 2+ yrs 1 hr 2-3 hrs 12-24 hrs Headache


Benadryl Diphenhydramine 6+ yrs 15-30 min 2-4 hrs 4-6 hrs Drowsiness


Chlor-Trimeton Chlorpheniramine 6+ yrs 30-60 min 2 hrs 4-8 hrs Dry Mouth $12

*Reference: Clinical Pharmacology and pricing from

**Cost listed is for generic product and cost decreases per tablet as bottle size increases.

Enjoy a season free from uncomfortable allergy symptoms

Be an informed health care consumer. Know how your prescription choices impact your plan’s costs. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about cost alternatives for your prescriptions or OTC selections. If you have any questions pertaining to this article email the Network Health pharmacists at [email protected].

Looking to learn more about allergies and the medications we use to overcome their pesky, or even serious, symptoms? Be sure to check our other posts in this series including the following.

As always, if you have questions about how your Network Health plan can help you enjoy the best months ahead this spring and summer, contact us today.

>>> CONTACT US <<<

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