April 25, 2021
Allergies are seldom easy to tame. Many allergens, from pollen to dust mites, are tough to avoid altogether, even if you stay indoors as much as possible during allergy season.
The good news? A massive variety of over-the-counter allergy medication is now readily available to help with everything from runny noses triggered by pet dander to sinus headaches caused by seasonal allergies.
To help you decide when you should use what, we’ve tallied up some of the best allergy medicines on the market.
What to look for when you’re buying allergy medication
Not sure where to start when it comes to allergy meds? Let’s discuss a few major factors worth considering before you purchase your drug of choice.
- Active ingredients: Different active ingredients trigger different effects. Diphenhydramine (used in Benadryl), for example, is an antihistamine. Antihistamines work differently than decongestants like pseudoephedrine (used in drugs like Sudafed PE). Learn more about the differences in our comprehensive allergy relief guide.
- Effective duration: Some allergy medicines are intended to be taken every 4–6 hours, while others are formulated to last 24 hours, so you only have to take them once daily.
- Side effects: Some allergy medicines (like Benadryl) cause drowsiness, which is worth noting if you’re planning to take your allergy medicine in the morning, during the day or anytime you might have to drive.
Best General-Use Outdoor and Pet Allergy Pills: Claritin 24-Hour Non-Drowsy Allergy Relief Tablets
Active ingredient: Loratadine
Dose frequency: Every 24 hours
Claritin is a big name in the world of allergy medicine, and one of the reasons it’s so popular is because its active ingredient, loratadine, is considered a second-generation antihistamine. That means these allergy pills are less likely to cause drowsiness than older drugs like diphenhydramine (Benadryl), while still relieving frustrating allergy symptoms like runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes.
Shop this and other Claritin products:
- Claritin 24-Hour Non-Drowsy Allergy Relief Tablets 30 ct
- Claritin 24-Hour Non-Drowsy Allergy Relief Tablets 5ct
- Claritin 24-Hour-Non-Drowsy Allergy Cool Mint Chewable Tablets 8 ct
- Claritin Non-Drowsy RediTabs 30 ct
Best Decongestant: Sudafed PE Maximum Strength Sinus Pressure & Congestion Relief
Active ingredient: Phenylephrine
Dose frequency: Every 4 hours
Antihistamines are great for everyday allergy relief, but if you’re dealing with serious sinus congestion, you’re naturally going to benefit more from a decongestant. Sudafed PE is an excellent choice. The drug uses phenylephrine, an active ingredient that fights the swelling of blood vessels in order to relieve congestion.
Take note that Sudafed and other allergy medicines that use phenylephrine are typically kept behind pharmacy counters to curb misuse. You can still buy it without a prescription, though—you’ll just have to ask, and show some ID.
Shop Sudafed PE:
Best Nasal Spray for Fast Congestion Relief: Afrin Original Nasal Spray
Active ingredient: Oxymetazoline
Dose frequency: Every 10–12 hours
Nasal sprays offer a worthwhile allergy relief option for those who frequently suffer from nasal congestion. And while corticosteroid sprays, like Rhinocort and Flonase, are generally better choices for long-term use, Afrin (which is not a steroid spray) is particularly useful if you’re looking for immediate short-term relief. Just keep in mind that you should only use Afrin for up to 3 days, or you may develop a tolerance and have a tougher time treating congestion in the future.
Best Fast-Acting Allergy Medicine: Zyrtec Allergy Relief Tablets 30ct
- Type: Antihistamine
- Active ingredient: Cetirizine
- Dose frequency: Every 24 hours
Zyrtec is a renowned antihistamine that’s known for performing faster (“starts working at hour 1”) than some of its competitors. This makes it exceptionally useful if you’re desperate for quick relief from common symptoms of allergic rhinitis (also known as hay fever), like a runny nose and watery eyes.
Shop this and other Zyrtec products:
- Zyrtec Allergy Relief Tablets 30 ct
- Zyrtec Allergy Tablets 3 ct
- Zyrtec Allergy Relief Tablets 30 ct & Emergen-C Super Orange Drink Mix 2 ct
- Zyrtec Children’s Allergy Liquid Ages 2+ Grape 4oz
Best Non-Drowsy Allergy Medicine: Allegra Allergy 24 HR
- Type: Antihistamine
- Active ingredient: Fexofenadine
- Dose frequency: Every 24 hours
Like Claritin, Allegra uses a second-generation antihistamine (fexofenadine) to provide fast-acting, non-drowsy relief from common allergy symptoms. And, like Zyrtec, it allegedly performs very quickly (“24 hours of the fastest non-drowsy relief,” per the Allegra website), though you only need to take one dose per day. It’s another strong choice for anyone dealing with common pet-related or outdoor allergies.
Best Nighttime Allergy Medicine: Benadryl Allergy Ultra Tabs
Active ingredient: Diphenhydramine
Dose frequency: Every 4–6 hours
Trying to get some shut-eye without waking up to a scratchy throat in the dead of night? There’s a solid chance that Benadryl can help. This household name is known not only for its allergy relief properties—courtesy of diphenhydramine, an antihistamine—but for causing marked drowsiness, which can be helpful if your allergy symptoms tend to keep you up at night.
Shop this and other Benadryl products:
- Benadryl Allergy Ultra Tabs 24 ct
- Benadryl Children’s Liquid Grape 4 oz
- Benadryl Children’s Allergy Oral Solution Cherry 4 oz
- Type: Redness reliever, antihistamine
- Active ingredient: Naphazoline, pheniramine maleate
- Dose frequency: Up to four times a day
Formerly known as VISINE-A, these antihistamine eye drops relieve both redness and irritation caused by allergies. That’s a more comprehensive package than you’ll get with a lot of eye drops, since they often focus more on lubrication and redness relief than tackling allergic reactions directly.
The best allergy medicine delivered straight to your door
Gearing up to wage war against pesky allergies? Gopuff is ready and raring to deliver the meds you need when you need them most. Browse our full selection of OTC medication, then explore the rest of our health essentials to complete your comprehensive self-care package. Place an order, and we’ll have your package delivered in no time.