The terms antihistamine and decongestant are often confused with one another and the terms are often interchanged by people. While they are similar, they are two very different terms and you should know what the differences in them are so that when you need one or the other you aren’t reaching for the wrong one or one that won’t work for what you need it to do.
How Do Decongestants Work?
Decongestants are primarily used to help reduce inflammation in the nose, which can cause stuffy feelings and difficulty breathing. When your nasal passages become irritated due to an allergen or virus, your nose tissues begin to swell and the result is often increased fluids in the nose, including mucus. Because there is so much extra moisture in your nose, it can be hard to breathe. Decongestants reduce the amount of swelling to help give you better air flow through your nose. The most common forms of decongestants are in pill form and nasal sprays. Decongestants can keep you more awake and can cause difficulty with sleeping. Higher blood pressure levels and headaches are common when taking decongestants for more than three days. People with high blood pressure or heart conditions should consult a doctor before taking.
What About Antihistamines?
Antihistamines help to prevent histamines in your nasal passages from swelling, which causes itching. Histamines cause you to sneeze, have funny feelings in your nose, and can promote swelling. Antihistamines work by blocking the receptors of the histamines that cause the inflammation and swelling. Most antihistamines come in pill form, the major drawback being that most make you drowsy. Most antihistamines are prescribed or recommended to be taken only when you are ready for bed. Other side effects that are common can include a dry mouth, vertigo (dizzy feelings) and a headache upon waking. You may also experience feelings of nervousness or anxiety if taken for more than a few days. Some people have also reported shakiness when they stopped taking an antihistamine after more than the recommended days of use.
Many people have problems with both congestion and histamines. In cases like this, it is possible that you may want to take both an antihistamine and a decongestant. While there are some on the market that are time released to help your body regulate the awake and tired feelings, most doctors will recommend taking a decongestant in the morning to help keep you awake (taking one with a little antihistamine medication is recommended) and then taking an antihistamine for the night due to the effects of drowsiness. You and your doctor may wish to adjust the amount taken or the time of day taken to find a combination that works for you. Always stop taking and talk to your doctor if you experience symptoms that are not common or if you feel the symptoms you have are affecting your health.
It is best that you talk to your doctor if you have other medical complications, are pregnant, or if you are taking other medications.