Sneaky Little Effects of Antihistamines

 Lake Barkley, Kentucky's Land Between the Lakes

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) estimates that more than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies. As an anything but proud member of the millions, I can atest to the misery caused by allergies as well as asthma.  I can also atest to the fact that there’s very little you can do to escape them entirely.  The only place I’ve ever lived where I got a little glimpse of allergy-free living was on an island off the Gulf of Mexico. The only trees were Palm Trees and the grass?  Well, it was sand.  Of course, even then, we’d venture into the nearby towns and, for some odd reason, they insisted on having trees and grass. Go figure.

Here are a few staggering statistics about allergies:

  • Allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic disease in the United States.
  • They account for annual health care costs of more than $18 billion. Hidden costs include lost work days, missed school time, and diminished leisure activities.
  • The situation is actually getting worse rather than better.  Cases of allergic reaction – the body’s overly sensitive immune response to a harmless substance – are on the rise.
  • Allergies can actually be life-threatening, as in the case of allergic shock, or anaphylaxis.
  • Due to the nastiness of Allergies as well as their rise on the horizon, countless studies are currently underway to find ways of dealing with the problem -and hopefully, in the end, winning!

Sneaky Little Effects of Antihistamines

The main, numero uno way we deal with our allergies is with antihistamines, right?  Even though they make us sluggish and downright Zombie-ish, it’s preferable to sneazing our heads off.  And it’s much better than the itchy, watery eyes and the itchy roof of the mouth.

However, there are some pretty nasty side-effects of taking antihistamines – especially if you have to take quite a bit.  Here in Kentucky, the Fall and Spring Seasonal Allergies are murder (the trees, lush grass, and goldenrod look gorgeous, but they carry a price).  Recently, I caught onto just how much Benadryl I was taking – in an effort to head-off the symptoms.  I started feeling kind of lethargic and…well, just not myself.  I realized that the feelings all started when I started taking the antihistamines, so I stopped taking them.  I started just using eye drops and doing a few other things instead.

Then I did a little research and, sure enough, antihistamines have a nasty little reputation.

The intensity of the side effects vary from person to person, of course.  Some people may be able to take them without any problems whatsoever.  In fact, I really only noticed a difference when I had to take more than two doses a day. Below are some lesser-known, “sneaky” side effects of Antihistamines, outlined by Javed Sheikh, M.D., Clinical Director of Allergy at Beth Israel Deaconess and full-time faculty at Harvard Medical School.

1. Impairment of Thinking
The same antihistamine in allergy medicines that cause drowsiness and sedation can also be responsible for some cognitive impairment. You may notice that you feel sluggish, slow or not as mentally sharp as usual; your kids may have trouble functioning in school. Some people may experience difficulty driving as a result, so think twice about getting behind the wheel if you’re taking a drug that causes drowsiness.

2. Depression
Feeling unusually sad? A lesser-known side effect of some allergy drugs with antihistaminesis depression. The sedative in these medicines can exacerbate existing depression or aggravate underlying depression, Sheikh says. If you’re prone to the illness talk with your doctor about allergy treatments that won’t affect your mood.

3. Anxiety
If you feel a little amped up from your allergy treatment, pseudoephedrine might be to blame. This class of medication has an effect similar to drinking several cups of coffee, Sheikh says. The stimulant properties of these medicines give some people heart palpitations, insomnia and anxiety. If you’re prone to panic attacks, these types of drugs will only worsen your condition.

4. Altered Taste and Smell
If you’ve noticed your favorite foods have lost their flavor, the problem might not be your taste buds. The preservatives and fragrances added to some prescription nasal sprays can sometimes change your sense of taste and smell. You might notice things just don’t smell the same or as sharp or food is bland. Adding insult to injury, these additives can also increase your symptoms as you may be allergic to them. There are several sprays that don’t contain fragrances or preservatives, so check with your doctor.

5. Low Libido
Lost that lovin’ feelin’? Any allergy medicine that has a depressive effect can decrease your sex drive, says Sheikh. Of course, the allergy itself could be so severe that it robs you of your desire to have sex but if you suspect that your low libido is result of your allergy medicine, you should talk with your doctor.

6. Increased Appetite
Though there may be many reasons why you can’t keep your hands out of that box of cookies, taking medicines with antihistamines can stimulate your appetite. If you’re taking these medications regularly or over the long term, you may have noticeable weight gain.

7. Infertility in Women
Though there are no studies to confirm the connection, some fertility specialists believe that the drying of mucous membranes caused by some allergy drugs could lead to infertility in women. Until there is conclusive evidence, seek the advice of your doctor.

8. Long-Term Health Issues
People with skin allergies often find relief from topical steroid creams. But some prescription creams can be quite strong. The stronger the steroid, the more parts of the body it’s used on, and the longer it is used can lead to illnesses associated with long-term steroid use including decreased growth rate in kids, increased chance of developing cataracts, osteoporosis and diabetes.

ARRGHHH!  Like I said, I started pulling back a little even before I read all of that.  I think I was, in full prevention mode, taking more than I needed. It’s kind of a wonder I ever stayed awake.  Well, actually, given my Starbucks fetish, it’s not that big a wonder.

A few things that have helped me immensely:

  1. Allergy Eye Drops.  Sometimes that’s my only symptom – itchy eyes.  But you have to buy the high end eye drops, sorry!  The ones that look like regular, “red eye” drops, but have the word Allergy etched across the front really don’t do much.  Go for the good stuff – it’s worth it.
  2. Freeze an Itchy Mouth.  Have you ever had the roof of your mouth itch?!  Miserable!  It’s one of the most uncomfortable things ever, isn’t it?  Drinking really, really, really cold water or tea helps.  A Starbucks Frap makes the itching go away entirely.  Okay, to be honest, so would a piece of ice…but that’s nowhere near as yummy.
  3. Wash Away the Allergens.  It may seem like a bit of an inconvenience, but showering as soon as you come in will also help a lot.  It gets the allergens off your body and hair. Also, change into something that you only wear in the house – then wash what you take off.
  4. Keep the Windows Shut as Much as Possible.  I hate this one….okay, I don’t even do this one….but if you suffer from seasonal allergies, keeping your windows closed will help a lot.  Reasonable, I guess, right?


Photo Credit:  The gorgeous picture was taken by Michael Sigers (aka hubby) at Kentucky’s beautiful Land Between the Lakes.  Click the pic for a larger view.  Not bad, eh?  Not bad ‘tall.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are disrespectful, offensive, or off-topic.

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17 thoughts on “Sneaky Little Effects of Antihistamines

  1. talk about a late comment, but just in case anyone stumbles across this in research anti histamines i felt i should correct something.

    Anti-histamines do NOT cause depression. Certain antihistamines, Loratidine for one (you might of heard of it-Claritin), actually have anti depressive properties. Recent research on a cellular level, and in an animal models have indicated that a combination of imipramine(old generation TCA) + an antihistamine makes for a superior treatment to any single drug regime currently in practice.

    The only other link i can find, is that if one abruptly stops antihistamine use after a long term of dependence it may cause depression – and then again, who wouldn’t feel a little sad when they have to deal with allergies again after being without for months or years on end?

  2. I HATE taking antihistimines and do it only if I am on death’s door. They make me a groggy, forgetful mess! I think the worst is Benadryl…that stuff can put me on the couch for an evening.

    And the part about antihistimines and infertility…it makes sense! Just because they haven’t studied it yet doesn’t mean it’s not true. I guess I’ll wait for the research.
    Abbie Waters´s last blog post ..How Much Does IVF Cost

  3. @Mike, sorry to respectfully disagree, but while antihistamines may be used as antidepressants (certainly the pharmacology is related) nevertheless there are certain individuals in whom depression may apparently occur after using antihistamines. Depression is listed as a possible side-effect of (i.e. adverse event related to) use of certain antihistamines. Plus, one needs only to do a web search searching for “[name of antihistamine] + depression” and you will find numerous postings. anecdotal maybe, however there is enough out there to not dismiss this. I feel a negative psychological effect from using them sometimes, and I have been a lifelong user. Regarding oral antihistamines, I will never touch a sedating antihistamine again in my life, they make me feel cognitively and psychologically terrible. Unfortunately, there is only one non-sedating antihistamine that seems to be effective for me, Allegra (fexofenadine), and I have recently realized that it accounts for more milder negative moods. Now I am pretty much out of options, however by using ocular antihistamine drops (Zaditor), nasal lubricant (Secaris or Rhinaris), and (funnily enough) drinking frequent cups of coffee or tea during the day, amazingly I am able to minimize my allergic symptoms to the occasional sneeze etc.

  4. For all you allergy sufferers out there here’s something else to add to your arsenal. A friend suggested I try coating my nasal passages (inside) with petroleum jelly each morning in the hay-fever season. I was desperate enough to try it and found it cut my allergies & I didn’t need as much meds to control it as before.

    Try it, you’ve got nothing to lose.

  5. PS: she suggested it to me cause I’m one of the few “lucky” ones who gets drowsy on everything out there & it affects me so much I can’t think or work (fell asleep at work once!). I hate taking the stuff.

  6. I couple years ago I suddenly started getting hives. I started taking an allergy pill a day(Cetirizine?). I got a doctor who told me I had a grass allergy that might be related to a wheat allergy. I sequestered myself and controlled what I ate but the hives kept coming back. There seemed to be no way for me to go on without taking the pill every day, but it felt it was getting worse, and I was tempted to take more or change medicines. Instead I stayed on one a day and my allergies seemed to stabilize at a dull annoyance.
    One day a friend of mine suggested that I try cutting to half a pill every day and see if it got worse. For a day it did, but then my allergies went back to the same dull annoyance as when I was taking the full pill. Over the past year I have been tracking my allergy medication usage and am now down to a quarter of a pill every 10 days or so and the dull allergy symptoms are the same up till the end of those 10 days where the symptoms spike and become unbearable.
    I have two hypotheses: 1) I am mildly allergic to the anti-histamine or some byproduct of its metabolized state 2) the anti-histamine allowed a buildup of the allergen that my immune system can get rid of but only with the help of histamines(more anti-histamines = less action from the immune system = buildup of allergens ?).
    I have found no literature or articles about such things online or from doctors, so I’ve been left to treat myself as my own lab rat…

  7. I have had allergies since a young child, …………cats, plants, dust, etc. I was so bad as a child I had asthma which required hospitalization on regular basis.
    I was sent to a specialist for desensitation which worked probably 80%, enough to get past the asthma and hospitalization routine.
    I still suffer from outdoor pollens and other known allergens. I also have a cat………doesn’t seem to get worst or better with or without the cat.
    I feel I have outgrown the asthma however, the assesment is not shared by my doctor who claims you don’t outgrow asthma. I can only verify my findings by the fact I no longer require ANY asthma medications and haven’t had a major asthma attack in years. I don’t have any scientific research to validate my claim…………???
    My doctor has put me on a ZyrTec a day regime for allergies. The only thing that I found was once when I ran out and didn’t get to the drug store right away, I had pretty severe leg jumps and other symptoms that were related to the drug……….proven by other similar instances!
    I have no idea what long term effects are but with common sense, anytime you put some foreign body into your system………..there will be consequences…………as with any drug! Physicians have to weigh BENEFITS vs LONG TERM SIDE EFFECTS every single time they prescribe you a medication!!
    I take numerous medications for various medical issues such as heart………..many of which are known to cause other problems but are sometimes necessary to relieve symptoms or even to keep you alive!
    My personal view is not taking any medication not absolutely necessary…………and I do debate this each and everytime with my doctor! Lets face it, we live in an era where MONEY outweighs ALL, including common sense and life itself!! On a planet with 8 billion people, Corporations see another sucker standing in line……… one;s going to loose a dime without you!!

  8. Great info for all us allergy sufferers. I have been taking oral antihistamines nearly everyday for years, rotating through the brands so as not to become immune to them. Recently I have started to see a naturopath as I am so over having to take antihistamines everyday and put up with the negative side effects. With her help I have lowered my dosage from everyday to just a few times a week (depending on seasons). For all of you going through the same, the best thing I have found is apple cider vinegar taken daily. If you can stomach it, take it straight in a shot glass (morning and night), I find if i do this before my allergies start in the morning then I don’t need a tablet, and when i forget and my allergies start i try a shot and give it half an hour, if its then not working than I have a pill, but it generally either prevents the allergies or makes them less pain full. If your not big on the shot glass thing try to incorporate it into your diet either as a salad dressing, or as a tea with honey. I have no idea how or why it works, but it is worth a try! I have also found washing my clothes in a hot water cycle, and having a hot shower without any smelling products when your symptoms are severe help heaps. I hope this help you as much as it has me =)

  9. I suffered from severe allergies for a number of years till I found turmeric and triphala. On advice of my Grandma, I started having a teaspoon of turmeric and a teaspoon of triphala daily and within a couple of months I was off both benadryl and claritin. About 4-5 months in a year, I used to pop 50mg benadryl before bed and a claritin in the morning every single day… but not any more.
    I add both triphala and turmeric to a cup of warm milk but you can even then have them with a smoothie.

  10. I agree with you, I suffered from aniety disorder and depression after using allegra for almost 2 half years.!!!I am very healthy woman and had so many bad things happen like diffuculty of urination , retention, uti, dry skin and mouth,muscle weakness difficulty sleeping ,started getting headaches, memory loss, heartbeat racing, I am lucky that i stopped this medication by accident and realized that this waste of money dangerous otc allegra with no proper labeling . Im 103 healthy 5 ft woman and was taking the adult 180mg allegra daily cz my dr. told me to get otc med for allergyand have to use it daily,…..that was the biggest mistake!!!!!! JUst Happy that I am back to my Health….FDA should look out for this.

  11. i have been taking actifed, which no longer exists, and benedryl for 25 years and no question, it causes depression, and panic attacks in me everytime.i hate it and am trying to find natural allergy remedy.

  12. all i can say is… claratin. i was on benadryl for awhile and i had to take it every 6 hours, it made me drowsy and my head foggy.
    claratin i take 1 “pill” that dissolves in my mouth in the morning, and 1 before I go to bed. completely symptom-free. no side effects that i’ve noticed. I can’t say enough good things about it.

  13. Hi, I’m a 22 year old student in the UK. I’m coming off my tablets after taking them every day for over 10 years (I’ve tried to cycle the type I take to make sure it’s effective) so this was very helpful as I was quite worried (I suffer from hay-fever AND dust allergy but living independently now means that I should be able to get relief from them at least in October!)

    I will try to keep you posted if I notice any noticeable effects!

  14. I completely agree with antihistamines causing depression and weight gain. I was taking Doxylamine succinate (Unisom) for years for insomnia and just recently came to the realization that it was causing these issues. My mood would swing throughout the day and I craved sweets all the time. I was too afraid to have rebound insomnia so I stayed on them too long. Coming off of it was very, very hard but I feel so much better and the quality of sleep I get now is more restful.

  15. Cetirizine actually helped me immensely with a panic disorder I have, it included being agoraphobic. I also suffer migraine associated vertigo and on a hunch, because I thought allergies could be an issue, I bought a generic brand from Amazon. I paid, at the time, $11.95 for a year’s worth.

    Within a week or two, I noticed my desire to do things and my ability to do them returned. I started leaving the house and in fact, started my own business where I had to be out and about. I still have vertigo episodes but now I don’t have the panic response that I used to have.

    Just my 2 cents. Certainly didn’t depress or dull my senses.