In this article we’re going to discuss probably the most common form of treatment for allergy sufferers; the use of antihistamines, what they are and how they work in the body to rid people of their allergy symptoms.
The first question most people ask about antihistamines is what they are. The reason is because when they see these little wonder pills advertised they are seeing the brand name and not what the pill actually is. The most popular brand names of antihistamines are Clarityn, Zyrtec, Allegra and Benadryl. There are plenty more though. The antihistamine industry is a multi billion dollar a year industry because of all the allergy sufferers but this still doesn’t tell us what an antihistamine is.
The best way to explain what an antihistamine is and what it does is to actually break the word down. Antihistamine is composed of two words, anti and histamine. Anti means to be against something or act against something. Which leaves us with what a histamine is. A histamine is something that your body produces in defense to an attack of allergens. It is these histamines that bring on the terrible symptoms of sneezing, itching, watery eyes, etc. that we suffer from when we are attacked by these allergens. Thus, an antihistamine is something that works against the histamines that our body produces.
Your common antihistamine comes in a little pill. How it actually works is quite amazing. What these pills do is release a chemical in our body that is very similar to and looks like a histamine to our body. These look-alike histamines make our body think that we basically have enough of these and keep the receptors in our body from working against them. In other words they stop the histamines in our body from working, thus relieving the symptoms.
What most people don’t know is that this is not the only function of histamines. They also play a very important role in the brain, keeping us attentive, alert and awake. So, if we stopped all of the histamines in the body from working we would basically fall asleep. This can be especially dangerous when driving a car or operating heavy machinery and in fact, this is exactly what happens when we take old antihistamines. So if you have any of these laying around in your home, please get rid of them and do not take them. Those expiration dates on antihistamines are there for a reason.
The good news is, newer forms of antihistamines have a much better effect on your allergies with less effect on your brain. How this is accomplished is actually very simple. Some medicines barely make it into the brain from the blood. This is actually not a good thing with antibiotics for brain infections. But when research workers figured this out they started to make antihistamines that also had the same properties as antibiotics, thus making it so that very little of the drug makes its way to the brain. If you read most antihistamine labels today it will say right on it, “non drowsy”.
In our next article in this series we’ll discuss the safety concerns of antihistamines.