In February 2014, Nasacort AQ became available over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription. It is currently referred to as Nasacort Allergy 24 Hour, and is the same medication as the prescription version. OTC Nasacort hits the shelves just in time for spring allergy season, but should you use this medication, or one of the newer OTC antihistamines, such as Zyrtec, Claritin or Allegra? The answer depends on the type and severity of your symptoms. Nasacort, an intranasal corticosteroid, is probably the most effective OTC medication for the treatment of nasal allergy symptoms. A downside to Nasacort is that it will not work on an as-needed basis; intranasal corticosteroids take time to work -- the may begin to give relief to allergy symptoms after about 6-10 hours, but full relief may not be obtained for days.
Antihistamines, such as Zyrtec, Claritin and Allegra, on the other hand, tend to work fairly quickly, usually within a couple of hours (or less) of taking the medication. Therefore, these medication work well when taken on an as-needed basis, as opposed to medications like Nasacort, which need to be taken most of the time for them to work. Antihistamines work best for the treatment of itchy nose, itchy eyes and sneezing -- and less well for symptoms of nasal congestion or runny nose. Of the three types of newer (and less sedating) antihistamines mentioned above, Zyrtec and Allegra work particularly well for the treatment of nasal allergies -- and usually within about an hour. Claritin, on the other hand, doesn't work as well, and takes about 3 hours to fully take effect. All three of these antihistamines are a good choice for spring allergy relief, and would be recommended over taking a sedating antihistamine such as Benadryl.