Cage Match – Antihistamines vs. Decongestants

You’re sniffling and miserable and you’ve had enough. You have two main options to choose from: antihistamines and decongestants. Which one is right for you? Let’s check the tail of the tape.

How Do They Work?

Antihistamines and decongestants may treat similar symptoms, but they go about in different ways.

  • Antihistamines work by blocking histamines, chemicals produced by the body in reacts to allergens. Histamines attach to cells, irritating them and causing sneezing, runny nose, and watery, itchy eyes. Antihistamines prevent histamines from attaching to cells and alleviate allergy symptoms.
  • Decongestants work by narrowing the blood vessels in swollen tissue of the nasal lining. The tissue shrinks and allows air to flow more freely.

When Do You Use Them?

Decongestants are used to treat colds, mild hay fever, and ear and sinus infections. Antihistamines remedy sneezing and runny nose from hay fever, itching, swelling, and redness from hives and other allergy rashes.

Watch Out For…

Decongestants affect blood pressure and heart rate so check with your doctor if you suffer from:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Glaucoma
  • Thyroid disease
  • Trouble urinating
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Diabetes

Decongestant sprays or drops should be used no longer than three days. After three days, they can worsen your congestion.

If you decide to start taking antihistamines, check with your physician if you suffer from:

  • Glaucoma
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • High blood pressure
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Heart Disease
  • Ulcers
  • Stomach or intestinal blockage
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Bladder obstruction
  • Diabetes

Antihistamines should be used with great care in older adults. Also, use antihistamines with great care when mixing them with other medications like antidepressants or sedatives.


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