Hives (also known as urticaria) is an itchy raised rash usually caused by a reaction to a trigger such as food, pollen, viral infection, insect bites or chemicals. Antihistamine medication prevents the level of histamine from rising in our body and reduce the symptoms of hives. Most antihistamines are available to buy over-the-counter, available as tablets, liquid and creams.
Tablets and liquids have a greater effect than creams, because they work throughout the body. There are many different antihistamines tablets available. Once-daily tablets include the medications loratadine, cetirizine and fexofenadine. Although these medications are the least drowsy out of all the over-the-counter antihistamines,they are not as effective as some of the others. Chlorphenamine (brand name Piriton) can be taken up to six times a day in adults and are often found to give more relief as it can be taken more often. Chlorphenamine can cause more drowsiness compared to other antihistamines, so beware if you are driving or doing a job that requires you to be alert.
If you have tried over-the-counter antihistamines for your hives and find the symptoms are still persisting without improvement, it may be time to consult your doctor. Your doctor may move to another class of prescription-only antihistamines. If this doesn’t work your doctor may consider introducing an oral steroid. Steroids are comparatively stronger but can also cause far more significant side effects.
The simplest and the best approach is to avoid the trigger causing the hives. If it is more difficult to avoid such as triggers of dust and pollen, then taking regular antihistamines may be beneficial, especially as the trigger may occur unknowingly.
If you have severe kidney or liver problems, you should avoid taking antihistamines without your doctor knowing. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you should also speak to your doctor before starting to take medications. If you are unsure whether you can take an antihistamine for any other reason such as medication interactions, speak to your pharmacist or doctor. With all antihistamines, the most common side effect is feeling a bit drowsy. Even though some are less drowsy any of the medications can still cause some drowsiness. Other side effects include dizziness and headaches. Allergic reactions are uncommon but possible with any medication, if you experience an allergic reaction then you should seek urgent medical attention.