The top 3 things you need to know about antihistamines
Updated: Mar 10
What are antihistamines?
Antihistamines are drugs that are primarily designed to alleviate allergy symptoms like nasal congestion, sneezing, hives, watery eyes and puffy faces. They do this by blocking the action of histamine, a compound that is produced by the body and is involved in producing an inflammatory response (1).
Antihistamines are frequently used by both children and adults. Maybe because antihistamines are sold over-the-counter, there seems to be a perception that it is safe to take them liberally and without too much thought. Although antihistamines are effective at getting rid of pesky symptoms quickly, and rarely cause serious damage when taken appropriately, there are some things to keep in mind before reaching for those pills, sprays and drops.
The top 3 things you need to know about antihistamines
Antihistamines provide temporary relief from symptoms, but do not address the cause. Antihistamines don’t take your allergies away. They just remove the symptom temporarily. The drugs don’t make the body recognize and respond appropriately to the allergen (the substance that aggravates the body and causes symptoms). Rather, the drugs just block a certain physiological response that involves your immune system, which may be out of balance. (See below by “Turn the foe into a friend” for a potential solution that will better address the cause).
Not all antihistamines are made the same. Currently, there are two main classifications of antihistamines -- older first generation and newer second/third generation. The first generation drugs are sedating, while the second/third generations are less so. Also, these two classes of antihistamines work differently and therefore, have different side effects (2).
Side effects can be detrimental. Unlike the newer generation antihistamines, the older first generation antihistamines can easily cross the blood-brain barrier and affect the brain. As a consequence, some of the side effects of first generation antihistamines include drowsiness, confusion, inattention, disorganized speech, impaired memory and altered consciousness (3). Even more concerning is the possible connection between long-term use (~3 years) of first generation antihistamines and the increased risk of developing dementia (4). Other side effects of first generation antihistamines include dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, urinary retention and low blood pressure (1).
The newer generation antihistamines seem safer than the first generation antihistamines (5). However, with all medications, there are always risks and side effects. Be sure to speak with your doctor to confirm that it’s safe to use antihistamines. Factors including age, medical history, current health status and the use of other medications can determine your risk level.
*NOTE FOR PARENTS: Included in the first generation group of antihistamines is diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Benadryl is often used with children, who are at higher risk of dosing errors, which can result in serious complications including seizures and death (3). Be sure to speak to your doctor before using Benadryl.
Alternatives to antihistamines
As previously mentioned, antihistamines treat the symptom, but do not address the underlying cause. When the body is highly reactive to something, it indicates that the immune system is not functioning properly. Understanding why the immune is acting inappropriately, and addressing the issues accordingly, will help to reduce your reliance on medications like antihistamines.
Tend to your gut. Your immune system may not be functioning optimally. To get back on track, looking at your gut health is a great place to start. Why? Because 70-80% of your immune system is in your gut (6). You can gain some insight into where your gut health is by looking at your poop. Ideally, you want stools that are well-formed, dark brown, and do not have undigested food in them. On the Bristol Stool chart, you want to be a “4.” (See Bristol Stool Chart by clicking link in reference section) (7). Also, having a lot of gas and bloating indicates that your gut may need some attention. Given that gut health is complex, working with a practitioner that understands gut health would be very valuable in identifying what needs to be done and in what order.
Support your immune cells. The immune cells that secrete histamine are called mast cells. By stabilizing your mast cells, you can reduce the release of histamine. Several compounds found in plants act as natural mast cell stabilizers. Compounds like quercetin and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) are some of the popular ones (8). Quercetin is found in foods like onions, apples, berries and oolong tea and EGCG is found in green tea. A diet that includes these herbal teas and is rich in organic fruits and vegetables will provide the proper nutrients that can help stabilize your mast cells. In addition to food, these natural mast cell stabilizers can also be found in supplement form. Again, it is advised to work with a practitioner for recommended supplement dosages, duration and brands.
Turn the foe into a friend. Your body is reacting to a substance that your body thinks is harmful. To get your body to recognize the substance as non-harmful, you can “train” your body to properly recognise the substance. This can be done through a health modality called BIE (BioEnergetic Intolerance Elimination). BIE helps to identify what the body does not properly recognize, and then normalizes the body back into energetic balance to that particular substance. As a result, the body gains the ability to properly recognize the previously aggravating substance and reacts appropriately. No needles, no pills and no sprays are needed for this procedure.
If you are experiencing reactions that are causing watery eyes, sneezing fits, nasal congestion, hives etc. and are looking for an alternative to taking antihistamines, book a free meet-and-greet with our BIE Practitioner and Holistic Nutritionist, Jennifer Ide. Simply call the clinic at 416-214-9251 or book online here. Jennifer would be more than happy to answer any of your questions. She looks forward to meeting you soon.
Want to learn more?
Jennifer Ide is a BIE Practitioner and Holistic Nutritionist, based in Toronto. She has helped many people with eczema, acne and hives, heal their skin naturally. She is here to support you and answer any questions that you have. There are many ways to connect. You can email directly (hyperlink to email), send a message on instagram @holsitickinartisan, or book a free meet-and-greet. Connect and see how she can help you!
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2017). Antihistamines. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547896/. (accessed September 19, 2020).
Roisin, F. et al. (2014). Antihistamine use in children. Archives of disease in childhood. Education and practice edition (Online). 100, 122-131.
Simon, F.E.R. and Simons, K.J. (2008). H1 Antihistamines: Current Status and Future Directions. World Allergy Organization, the World Allergy Organization Journal. 1, 145-155.
Gray, S.L. et al. (2015). Cumulative Use of Strong Anticholinergics and Incident Dementia A Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA Internal Medicine. 175, 401-407.
Fein, M.N. et al. (2019). CSACI position statement: Newer generation H1-antihistamines are safer than first-generation H1-antihistamines and should be the first-line antihistamines for the treatment of allergic rhinitis and urticaria. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology. 15, 61.
Vighi, G. et al. (2008). Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical & Experimental Immunology. 153 (Suppl 1), 3-6.
Mlcek, J. et al. (2016). Quercetin and Its Anti-Allergic Immune Response. Molecules. 21, 623.