Allergy Medications and Brain Health: What you Need to Know!

Allergy Medications and Brain Health: What you Need to Know!

It’s that time of year again; when most people with allergies get flair ups. Runny noses, sneezing, and red burning eyes causes people everywhere to reach for the medicine cabinet for relief. But, can your allergy medication be causing more harm than benefits?

Cognitive Vitality’s board of medical experts review the most recent research on over-the-counter and prescription medications, then release reports on how safe those medications are, when it comes to brain health.

Read on to find out how to choose wisely when it comes to picking a healthy allergy drug.

Can Medications for Allergies Harm Your Brain?

Here is the recent report on allergy medications from Cognitive Vitality:

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) – an anticholinergic antihistamine that helps alleviate allergy symptoms; diphenhydramine also blocks the action of acetylcholine–a neurotransmitter that is vital to learning and memory. This means that diphenhydramine (and other anticholinergic medication) has the opposite effect of an Alzheimer’s drug, such as donepezil (Aricept).

Anticholinergic drugs were also associated with up to a 54% increased risk of dementia in recent studies. Other human studies have discovered that diphenhydramine impairs cognitive function, including:

• Reaction time
• Alertness
• Attention and memory
• Executive function (mental skills that enable a person to pay attention, manage time and generally, to manage life’s tasks)

- Advertisement -

Diphenhydramine also increases sleepiness, and fatigue, while lowering motivational levels (according to clinical studies). An observational study reported that in older patients who were hospitalized, diphenhydramine increased the risk for delirium, disorganized speech and altered consciousness. So, it’s not a medication that is recommended, particularly for seniors, or those with memory problems.

Safe Alternatives to Diphenhydramine for Allergies

According to Cognitive Vitality, there are several safer alternatives, when it comes to allergy medications, that were found to have fewer cognitive side effects than diphenhydramine, these include:

Clarinex (desloratadine) – when compared to diphenhydramine in a recent study of 214 people, desloratadine was found to have NO side effects such as sleepiness, memory problems, slowing of psychomotor speed, reasoning and computation, or deficit in attention span. Diphenhydramine, by contrast, was found to cause all these side effects.

Claritin (loratadine) – was compared to diphenhydramine in a recent medical study involving 98 healthy people. Loratadine was found to have the same level as a placebo (sugar pill) when observing for side effects; diphenhydramine, on the other hand, caused many side effects including poor cognitive performance, sleepiness, fatigue and low motivational levels.

Allegra (fexofenadine) – did not cause any of the side effects observed in diphenhydramine (such as slowing response time or causing sleepiness). One study discovered that a single dose of fexofenadine resulted in a quicker reaction time, fewer omission errors, and better recall, compared to when study participants took diphenhydramine.

Zyrtec (cetirizine) – was found to have the fastest onset of action of any allergy medication that was evaluated in studies. Compared to other newer antihistamines, cetirizine was more likely to cause drowsiness.


Of course, you should always consult with your health care provider before taking any medication (even over the counter drugs and supplements). Checking with the physician is important for seniors, particularly for those who are concerned with living past 100 well and maintaining optimal brain health.