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Daniel More, MD

When Allergy Medicines Stop Working

By May 12, 2011

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Can allergy medicines suddenly stop working? I hear this all the time from my patients. They'll tell me that the "developed an immunity" to a certain medicine, and after a period of time -- say months to years -- the allergy medicine simply stops working, and they need to change to another medicine. Could this actually happen? Possibly. We know that in pharmacology, certain medicines, when overused, can stop working as well since the body will start making less of the receptor for that medicine. For example, this is exactly what happens with the overuse of albuterol for the treatment of asthma. However, I don't know of any science behind why other allergy medicines, such as antihistamines and nasal sprays,†stop working.

Recent surveys do show that both adults and children experience the loss of effectiveness of allergy medicines. Nearly 2 out of every 3 adults report that they have stopped an allergy medicine in the past because it stopped working, typically within a matter of months. And, nearly 20% of adults report changing allergy medicines in the past year because the medicine stopped working. Children seem to experience a loss of effectiveness of allergy medicines as well, with nearly 10% changing allergy medicines within the past year, and more than 1 in 4 children needing to change nasal sprays regularly because of the benefit "wearing off".

So, do people actually develop an "immunity" to allergy medicines as a reason why the medicines stop working? It's doubtful, in my opinion. But there's no doubt that people seem to think that the allergy medicine loses its effectiveness, for whatever reason, which results in the need to try something else.

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May 16, 2011 at 3:27 pm
(1) Lindsay says:

I takeopc-3every day and I feel great!

May 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm
(2) Nancy LÚpez says:

My 4 year old boy has suffered of hay fever since born. He has taken long treatments of Clarityn, Aerius, Zyrtec and Allegra. All of these antihistamines have worked well for 2 months. After that period of time they lose their effectiveness and he tends to need other medicines. I have taken the decision to stop giving him the antihistamines because they dont really work. If I ever give him medicine for allergy I use it only for a maximum of two weeks and then stop.

May 17, 2011 at 6:01 pm
(3) gina says:

My internist told me there is not going to be just one medication that will fix my allergy problems. The key to any of them working is to build up a level in your blood and keep that there; so now I take the Claritin all year long, even in the winter when there are no allergies, and then when spring comes I supplement it with the Flonase. This has helped a lot. For those who are congested, try Goldenseal (herb) it works great.

August 2, 2011 at 1:47 pm
(4) Laser Allergy Solutions says:

Thanks for the great tips Gina!

September 8, 2011 at 4:47 pm
(5) V says:

I have runny/stuffy nose everyday, my nose runs every few minutes and I always have trouble breathing through it. I’ve used Claritin Liquid Gels and Advil Cold and Sinus, they will work for a month or two then it stops working. I don’t have insurance anymore or else I’d go to a doctor already. I used to have allergies only in the Spring and Winter, but it was not until last Summer that I started to have allergies everyday, all year long.

It sucks because it ruins my summer vacation and it makes it difficult for me to focus in class now that school has started. I always have to bring a box full of kleenex just to wipe my nose every couple minutes. I wish there was a way to permanently relieve it. I can’t stand this anymore.

November 4, 2011 at 5:05 pm
(6) Michelle says:

This comment is for V. I had the same problem for years until I started using Singular. You say you are in school, do you mean college? If so you should have some kind of healthcare from the school. I was prescribed Singulair from the school nurses and it made a world of difference. Good luck.

January 19, 2013 at 6:21 am
(7) James says:

Funny, it was my allergy specialist and my doctor who told me we build up immunity to them

April 24, 2013 at 4:28 pm
(8) Beth says:

My pharmacist told me that medications are allowed a 20% variance in the amount of the active ingredient due to inconsistency in processing. It may say 180 mg of the medication in Allegra, but that entire run may have had as little as 144mg per dose. I have one bottle of Allegra that doesnt work and one bottle that does, Bought at different stores a week apart.

July 6, 2013 at 3:16 pm
(9) Dino says:

The last paragraph is amusing. It implies that anybody that thinks they have developed immunity to their allergy medicine is simply deluded. However the author doesn’t provide any scientific data to prove otherwise.

January 4, 2014 at 11:29 am

The comment about there being no allergies in the winter is not true for me. Often when you are inside so much allergies to mold, house dust mites, feathers in pillows, etc. are all exacerbated by the dryer air caused by your heating system. Espcecially a hot-air system that blows the air around. Winter is often my worst season in spite of trying hard to eliminate allergens by not having carpets, using all foam pillows and running a humidifier.

March 3, 2014 at 7:49 am
(11) NJP says:

This is the same for me. I can sleep for a few hours & then my nose gets stuffed up & I have to breadth thru my mouth. Then I get dry mouth so bad it wakes me up. Then I have to sleep the rest of the night in a chair. All because the allergy medicine quit working. I’m retired but if I were still working, I would make a bad employee due to the lack of sleep! This started 2 years ago & I have a very clean house. What to do?

March 11, 2014 at 8:26 am
(12) ChericeMV says:

I’ve been having the very same issue with my allergies. Unfortunately it causes me to have endless sinus infections and my tolerance to antibiotics is building to the point that they aren’t effective since they being used so much. It is disappointing to know that I suffer when I change the furnace filter every single month, I have a clean house, my mattress is covered, no carpet in the house, etc. I’ve been taking Allegra for the past several years and have been alternating between that and Zyrtec. Zyrtec seems to work for a while and then it simply quits working so I go back to Allegra. Claritin has never worked for me but will need to try it again but doubt that will be effective. Yesterday I finished a 14-day round of Cefdinir antibiotic and woke up this morning feeling all stuffed up, full sinuses and that dizzy all around crappy feeling due to the antihistamine not working. It would be nice to know from a scientific point of view as to why the antihistamines work like they do, as well as why they cannot come up with a new antihistamine other than the ones that are on the market right now. Needless to say I am sick and tired of suffering just like the rest of you are.

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