Best non-drowsy hayfever tablets (antihistamines) in the UK reviewed
Drug reviews: use, side effects, effectiveness

5 Best Non-Drowsy Hayfever Tablets

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Hayfever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis is a common condition which occurs mainly during spring and summer seasons. Hayfever symptoms happen in response to allergens such as tree or grass pollen and may include runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes. Thankfully there are few non-drowsy hayfever tablets, which I am going to review. Non-drowsy antihistamines, which can be purchased over the counter in the UK include:

  • Cetirizine
  • Loratadine
  • Acrivastine
  • Fexofenadine

Table of Contents

  • Are all hayfever tablets non-drowsy?
  • Can you buy non-drowsy hayfever tablets over the counter?
  • Which non-drowsy antihistamine is the best?
  • Over the counter non-drowsy hayfever tablets
  • Prescription-only non-drowsy hayfever tablets  
  • Hayfever – an alternative treatment

Are all hayfever tablets non-drowsy?

Non-drowsy antihistamines reviewed in this post are classified as second-generation antihistamines. Second-generation antihistamines are less likely to cause sedation than first-generation antihistamines, which cause profound sedation. They, therefore, are commonly used as active ingredients in over the counter sleeping pills.

Although second-generation antihistamines are classified as ‘non-drowsy’, drowsiness can occasionally happen with this type of antihistamines. Out of all reviewed non-drowsy hayfever tablets, loratadine is the only antihistamine which does not list drowsiness and dizziness as a common side effect. Based on chemical properties of the drug, fexofenadine may cause minimal to none drowsiness; however, most manufacturers list this side effect at a common frequency.   

Can you buy non-drowsy hayfever tablets over the counter?

Non-drowsy antihistamines can be purchased over the counter from supermarkets and pharmacies. Larger packs of antihistamines may be classified as pharmacy-only medicines (P), which means they can only be sold from behind a pharmacy counter and from online chemists. 

Which non-drowsy antihistamine is the best?

Second-generation antihistamines are considered to be of similar effectiveness (Mann et al., 2000). There are no long-term studies which compare the efficacy of non-sedative antihistamines. When requesting an antihistamine in the pharmacy, customers are usually recommended a non-drowsy antihistamine. Customers who previously used antihistamine(s) usually choose one that they found to work the best for them.

Over the counter non-drowsy hayfever tablets

1. Cetirizine

Cetirizine is one of the most popular over the counter non-drowsy hayfever tablets. Cetirizine is also available as a liquid antihistamine for children. Regardless of brand, all cetirizine tablets contain the same amount of cetirizine – 10mg per tablets. Most supermarkets and pharmacies sell their own ‘brands’ of cetirizine, for example, Tesco Allergy and Hayfever Relief 10mg tablets and Lloyds Pharmacy Antihistamine Hayfever Relief 10mg tablets, both produced by the same manufacturer. Common branded products containing cetirizine include Benadryl Allergy One a Day and Piriteze Antihistamine Allergy Relief Tablets. 

Cetirizine: age restriction and dose 

Children can take cetirizine from 2 years of age. Babies and children can use liquid cetirizine can. Tablets are recommended for children and adults over 12 years of age. The recommended dose for children under 12 is 5mg twice a day; therefore, one would need to break 10mg tablet to meet this dose (unlicensed use). 

Cetirizine: common side effects

Possible side effects which may be experienced when taking cetirizine and their estimated frequency (eMC, 2016):

  • Headache (7%)
  • Somnolence (10%)
  • Dry mouth (2%)
  • Dizziness (1%)
  • Nausea (1%)
  • Fatigue (2%)

Although classifies as a non-drowsy antihistamine, dizziness may be experienced by around 1 in every 100 people, somnolence in 10 in every 100 individuals. 

Where can you buy cheap cetirizine?

Most supermarkets sell their brand of cetirizine, which are usually one of the cheapest options on the high street. Most cetirizine tablets sold in supermarkets and some pharmacies, for example, Asda, Boots, Tesco, Morrisons, Co-op and Sainsburys are made by the same manufacturer.

Without a doubt, patients can buy a bulk of cetirizine tablets on Amazon.co.uk, which provides the best value and the lowest price per pack, for example:

Customers have a choice of branded cetirizine 10mg, for example, Benadryl Allergy One a Day 10 mg Tablets. Branded versions of cetirizine contain the same amount of this drug – 10mg per tablet.

Sale
Non-drowsy hayfever tablets - Benadryl Allergy One a Day 10 mg Tablets
2,698 Reviews
Benadryl Allergy One a Day 10 mg Tablets - Effective and Long Lasting Relief from Hay Fever, Pet, Skin and Dust Allergies - 30 Tablets
  • Benadryl Allergy One a Day tablets for long lasting relief: Just one tablet provides effective all day relief from the symptoms of hay fever, dust allergies, pet allergies and skin allergies.
  • Contains cetirizine: Benadryl Allergy One a Day tablets contain 10mg cetirizine dihydrochloride, which at the recommended dose does not normally cause drowsiness.
  • Effective relief for hay fever: Benadryl Allergy One a Day helps to provide relief from hay fever symptoms such as itchy and watery eyes, itchy and runny nose and sneezing.

2. Loratadine

Loratadine is a second equally popular non-drowsy antihistamine. Loratadine comes in the form of tablets (10mg tablets) and in the form of liquid.

Loratadine: age restriction and dose 

Over the counter loratadine can be used in adults and children over two years of age. The standard dose for adults and children (over 30kg) is 10mg daily (1 tablet daily). 

Is loratadine a non-drowsy antihistamine? 

Drowsiness is not listed as a common side effect of loratadine. No other common side effects are listed for loratadine.  

Where can you buy cheap loratadine?

Loratadine availability mirrors cetirizine availability. You can buy loratadine in shops, supermarkets and pharmacies with larger packs (60 tablets) restricted to pharmacy-only sales. Supermarkets sell the cheapest loratadine, and again if you are looking for great savings, third-party sellers (pharmacies) offer the best value for money by selling bulk supply of loratadine (6 or 12 months supply) on Amazon.co.uk 

Sale
Cheap non-drowsy antihistamine tablets - Loratadine 10mg One a Day Tablets
2,507 Reviews
240 - 10mg Loratadine One a Day hay fever and Allergy Relief Tablets GSL - 8 months supply
  • Loratadine One-a-day 10mg tablets help prevent the symptoms associated with hayfever and high pollen counts as well as other allergic reactions caused by pets and dust mites
  • Loratadine can also be taken for allergic skin reactions such as rash, itching and urticaria (more commonly known as Hives or Nettle Rash)
  • A single tablet once a day can get you back to feeling normal and free from allergy symptoms

Customers also have a choice of branded loratadine, which contains the same amount of loratadine – 10mg per tablets, for example, Clarityn Allergy relief tablets. 

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Clarityn Allergy Relief Tablets – loratadine 10mg
3,926 Reviews
Clarityn Allergy Tablets, 10mg Loratadine, Hayfever Relief, Pack of 30, 1 month’s Supply
  • Provides relief of hayfever symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, itchy throat or nose
  • Also treats the symptoms of other allergies associated with pets, house and dust mites
  • Can also be taken for allergic skin conditions such as rash, itching, redness and urticaria (hives)

3. Acrivastine

Less known acrivastine is sold as a branded product called Benadryl Allergy Relief capsules. Each capsule contains 8mg of acrivastine. Acrivastine has a rapid onset of action, which means it starts to work fast (Brogden et al., 1991). Benadryl Allergy Relief capsules cost more than most supermarket and pharmacy brands of cetirizine and loratadine. 

Acrivastine: age restriction and dose 

Benadryl Allergy Relief capsules can be used by adults and children over 12 years of age. Recommended daily dose is one capsule to be taken up to three times a day. Customers can use Benadryl Allergy Relief capsules ‘on-demand’ due to its fast onset of action. Benadryl Allergy Relief capsules gets to work faster than cetirizine and loratadine tablets and capsules (marketing description sates).

Is acrivastine non-drowsy antihistamine?

Although classified as non-sedating, dizziness and somnolence are listed as common side effects of Benadryl Allergy Relief capsules. Other common side effect associated with acrivastine use is dry mouth.

Where can you buy acrivastine (Benadryl Allergy Relief capsules)?

Benadryl Allergy Relief capsules are sold in supermarkets and pharmacies. Larger packs may be sold in pharmacies only.

Sale
Benadryl Allergy Relief Capsules – fast acting antihistamine
3,105 Reviews
Benadryl Allergy Relief Capsules - Fast-Acting Antihistamine Capsules - Starts to work in 15 minutes - 24 Capsules
  • Starts to work in just 15 minutes: Benadryl Allergy Relief is a fast-acting allergy relief capsule that starts to provide powerful relief from the symptoms of hay fever and dust, skin and pet allergies in just 15 minutes.
  • Contains acrivastine - Benadryl Allergy Relief contains acrivastine, a non-sedating antihistamine which at the recommended dose does not cause drowsiness in the majority of people. It gets to work faster than cetirizine and loratadine tablets and capsules.
  • Fast reactive relief when allergies strike: Benadryl Allergy Relief Capsules are effective for indoor and outdoor allergies including hay fever, pet, dust and skin allergies. They provide relief for itchy eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, rashes and hives.

4. Benadryl Allergy Relief Plus Decongestant capsules

Benadryl Allergy relief plus decongestant (contains acrivastine & pseudoephedrine)

Acrivastine is also sold in combination with pseudoephedrine (a decongestant). Benadryl Allergy Relief Plus Decongestant capsules contain acrivastine (8mg per capsule) and pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (60mg per capsule). Pseudoephedrine is classified as a decongestant, which effectively unblocks stuffy nose.

Benadryl Allergy Relief Plus Decongestant is a pharmacy-only product, which means it can only be purchased from registered pharmacies, including online chemists.

Benadryl Allergy Relief Plus Decongestant: age and other restrictions

Benadryl Allergy Relief Plus Decongestant can be used by adults and children over 12 years of age.

Some patients should not take Benadryl Allergy Relief Plus capsules because of pseudoephedrine content. Patients with the following conditions should not take Benadryl Allergy Relief Plus capsules:

  • Cardiovascular disease and hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Closed-angle glaucoma
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Severe renal impairment
  • Patients who take beta-blockers
  • Patients who take monoamine oxidase inhibitors or recently stopped the treatment (within 14 days)
Benadryl Allergy Relief Plus Decongestant: common side effects

As with previously reviewed product, Benadryl Plus Decongestant can commonly cause dizziness and somnolence. Other common side effects include:

  • headache
  • dry mouth
  • nausea
  • insomnia and
  • nervousness.

5. Fexofenadine

Fexofenadine is the newest addition to non-drowsy antihistamine tablets. So far, fexofenadine was only available on prescription. Soon fexofenadine will be available over the counter medication (sold as a branded product: Allevia 120mg tablets) as recently fexofenadine was reclassified from prescription-only medicine to general sale medicine. Read more about over the counter fexofenadine.

At this time, Allevia 120mg has not been launched in the UK yet.

Alleviate 120mg – age restrictions

Allevia tablets will be licensed to relieve symptoms associated with seasonal allergic rhinitis (hayfever) in adults and children aged 12 years and over (Gov.UK, 2020).

Out of all non-drowsy antihistamine tablets, fexofenadine has the lowest potential to cause any drowsiness, due to the fact it does not penetrate the brain (Kawauchi et al., 2019). Dizziness, drowsiness, and headache are listed as common side effects for fexofenadine.

Higher-strength of fexofenadine 180mg is a prescription-only medication.

Prescription-only non-drowsy hayfever tablets  

There are about 20 licensed antihistamines in the UK (drowsy and non-drowsy). A total of 13.1mln prescriptions were issued for antihistamines in the last 12 months (Dec ’19—Nov ’20). Non-drowsy hayfever tablets account for around 77% of total prescribed antihistamines.

No-drowsy hayfever tablets vs drowsy hayfever tablets prescribing statistics
Data source: OpenPrescribing.net (2021)

In order, cetirizine, fexofenadine and loratadine are the most commonly prescribed non-drowsy antihistamines in the UK. There is a significant gap between the top 3 most prescribed hayfever tablets, and the next most popular medication, which is desloratadine, an active form of loratadine (prescription only medication). 

Hayfever – an alternative treatment

Individuals who cannot control hayfever symptoms with antihistamine tablets are usually recommended additional treatment with hayfever nasal sprays and hayfever eye drops, both of which can be purchased over the counter.

Conclusion

Customers have a good choice of antihistamines, which can be purchased over the counter. Although named as non-drowsy, most antihistamines, except loratadine (and fexofenadine) can occasionally cause drowsiness. Second-generation antihistamines are much less likely to cause drowsiness than first-generation antihistamines, which are commonly associated with drowsiness and sedation.

References

Brogden RN, McTavish D. Acrivastine. A review of its pharmacological properties and therapeutic efficacy in allergic rhinitis, urticaria and related disorders. Drugs. 1991 Jun;41(6):927-40. doi: 10.2165/00003495-199141060-00008. Erratum in: Drugs 1991 Oct;42(4):639. PMID: 1715267. Available at: https://doi.org/10.2165/00003495-199141060-00008 Accessed on 02/02/2021

eMC (2016). SmPC: BecoAllergy 10mg Tablets. Available at: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/product/5332/smpc Accessed on 03/02/2021 

Gov.UK (2020). Public Assessment Report of the Reclassification of Allevia 120mg Tablets. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-assessment-report-of-the-reclassification-of-allevia-120mg-tablets Accessed on 27/12/2020

Kawauchi H, Yanai K, Wang DY, Itahashi K, Okubo K. Antihistamines for Allergic Rhinitis Treatment from the Viewpoint of Non-sedative Properties. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(1):213. Published 2019 Jan 8. doi:10.3390/ijms20010213 Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.3390%2Fijms20010213 Accessed on 03/02/2021

Mann RD, Pearce GL, Dunn N, Shakir S. Sedation with “non-sedating” antihistamines: four prescription-event monitoring studies in general practice. BMJ. 2000;320(7243):1184-1186. doi:10.1136/BMJ.320.7243.1184 Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.1136%2Fbmj.320.7243.1184 Accessed on 01/02/2021

I am a community pharmacist working in UK. I blog about drugs, health and pharmacy.

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