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Allergies health centre

Antihistamine tablets

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have hay fever. It tells you about antihistamine tablets, a treatment used for hay fever. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

Yes. Antihistamine tablets can help with the symptoms of hay fever. There are lots of different antihistamine tablets.

What are they?

Antihistamine tablets calm your body's allergic reaction to pollen. They do this by blocking the effects of a chemical in your body called histamine. [26] [27]

There are two types of antihistamine medicines.

  • The older antihistamines may make you drowsy. These are called sedating antihistamines.

  • The newer ones shouldn't make you drowsy. These are called non-sedating antihistamines. Sometimes they're called non-drowsy antihistamines.

If you take non-sedating antihistamines, you'll probably need to take them only once a day. But if you take sedating antihistamines, you'll need to take them more often.

You can buy some antihistamine tablets at a pharmacy, but you'll need a prescription from your doctor for others.

This table lists some of the most common antihistamine tablets and their brand names. You don't have to buy the brands listed. You may see them for sale under their generic name or as a pharmacy's own brand. It's worth checking, as these are sometimes cheaper.

Generic nameBrand nameDo you need a prescription?Does it make you sleepy?
AcrivastineBenadryl Allergy ReliefNoNo

Some antihistamines also come as syrups.

You'll need to talk to your doctor about the best type of antihistamine for you. If you take one that makes you feel drowsy, you shouldn't drive or use heavy machinery.

How can they help?

Antihistamines can make you feel better by helping relieve the symptoms of hay fever. If you take them: [28]

  • You may sneeze less often

  • Your nose will feel less itchy

  • Your nose will be less runny

  • Your eyes will be less itchy and watery.

Most antihistamines won't get rid of the blocked feeling in your nose. But some research suggests that an antihistamine called fexofenadine (Telfast) can help people breathe more easily through their nose. [29] [30] [31]

Taking antihistamine tablets may also help you to: [29] [32] [33]

  • Sleep better

  • Be able to carry out your normal activities

  • Feel better

  • Be able to go to work as usual

  • Be able to concentrate better at school if you are a student.

Antihistamine tablets may not help quite as much as steroid sprays. But antihistamines are usually the treatment that people try first.

Last Updated: August 02, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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