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The Allergies and Asthma blog has now been retired. We appreciate the wisdom and support Dr. Enright has brought to the WebMD community throughout the years. You can still find great allergy information and support on the WebMD Allergies Health Exchange.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Antihistamines aren’t Addictive!

Your body doesn’t become addicted to antihistamines anymore than your car becomes addicted to having a windshield. Okay, let me explain this odd analogy: If you have nasal allergies, and you inhale some of the allergens to which you’ve become sensitized, white cells burst open, releasing histamine, which quickly begins inflammation in your nose and you get symptoms. If there was some antihistamine in your body at the time, this inflammation is blocked. Sort of like the windshield of your car keeping dust and bugs from hitting your face when you drive.

If you remove the windshield of your car, bugs will again hit your face. If you then replace the windshield, it won’t remove the bugs already in your eye. Does this mean that you or your car are “addicted” to the windshield?

In medical terms, your body does not develop tolerance to antihistamines. Once you take them for months to years, you don’t need increasing doses just to get the same protection that you got originally. If you stop them “cold turkey” you are no more sensitive to allergens than when you began taking the antihistamine in the first place.

When only first generation antihistamines were available, they put me to sleep, so I only took them when my nose was stuffed up and my eyes itchy and red. They weren’t very effective then, but I didn’t complain because I was asleep.

When second generation non-sedating antihistamines came along, I took them an hour or two before planned walks into areas with grass or weeds. They worked great and I didn’t get symptoms when I took them before allergen exposures. However, I didn’t take them every morning because they cost a dollar per pill and I am frugal.

Now that generic Claritin only costs 3 cents a pill, I take it every morning. If I know that I will be working outdoors pulling weeds or using the weed whacker, I take two in the morning and wait a couple of hours before starting the yardwork. It works great.

Zyrtec is generally stronger than Claritin, but it’s also ten times as expensive and requires a prescription. All antihistamines are much, much more effective when taken hours BEFORE allergen exposures instead of only after you get symptoms. That’s the main reason that many people suffer needlessly. As with asthma, think PREVENTION.

Related Topics: Taking the Itch out of Fall Allergies, Conquer Allergies!

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Posted by: Paul Enright MD at 6:11 am

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