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Which effective antihistamines are available without a prescription?

Antihistamines are medicines prescribed to reduce allergic symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes. Some molecules are now available without a prescription. Marie Tardieu, Head of Unit at the French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines (ANSM), provides an update.

With the return of summer comes itchy eyes, runny noses and sneezing? Seasonal allergies are not inevitable! A number of over-the-counter medications can help reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Antihistamines: what are they?

Antihistamines are drugs that block the production of histamine. Histamine is a molecule that plays a major role in triggering an allergic reaction,’ explains Marie Tardieu, head of the allergology medicines unit at the French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines (ANSM). Antihistamines inhibit histamine receptors and block its action in the body’. He added: ‘Be careful, this is only a symptomatic treatment, meaning that it reduces the symptoms of the allergy but does not cure it.’

There are two types of antihistamine:

first-generation antihistamines: Periactin, Polaramine and Primalan

second-generation antihistamines: Aerius, Virlix, Kestin, Zaditen, Zyrtec, Alairgix, Bilaska and Levofree (eye drops).

What are the indications for antihistamines? When are they prescribed?

Antihistamines are most commonly prescribed to treat allergic symptoms such as :

  • a runny nose (allergic rhinitis),

  • bursts of sneezing

  • Itchy, itchy, watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis),

  • coughing, etc.

They are also effective in reducing itching during an attack of hives or an insect bite,’ explains Marie Tardieu. Anti-histamine molecules are also found in certain anti-anxiety and insomnia medications, to combat motion sickness and reduce nausea in pregnant women.

What antihistamines are available without a prescription? Are they effective?

Have you run out of treatment and are you trembling at the thought of spending a weekend sneezing in the countryside? Don't panic. Several first- and second-generation anti-histamines are now available without a prescription:

  • first-generation anti-histamines: cyproheptadine (Periactin) and dexchlorphenamine (Polaramine);

  • second-generation anti-histamines: cetirizine (Alairgix Allergy, Zyrtecset, etc.), fexofenadine (Allervi) and loratadine.

Second-generation anti-histamines - in particular cetirizine and loratadine - are highly effective in treating localised allergic symptoms in the upper respiratory tract and the skin (urticaria). ‘Presentations containing cetirizine, fexofenadine or loratadine, available without prescription, contain only 7 tablets’, states the Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament. And it reminds us: ‘They may only be self-medicated in adults and children over the age of twelve. They should not be used for more than seven days without medical advice. Treatments cannot be compared with each other. It is the responsibility of the healthcare professional to assess the benefit-risk balance for the patient and to prescribe or dispense the most appropriate treatment.

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