Using an antihistamine for anxiety isn’t an uncommon practice. However, it may not be the best course of action for everyone. In this article, you’ll learn more about anxiety and the role of antihistamines in treating symptoms, and why other strategies may work better for both short- and long-term anxiety and panic attacks.
The Importance of Treating Anxiety
Anxiety is a natural part of life for everyone, but it can get out of control. Mild anxiety may have advantages, such as sharpening your focus. On the other hand, chronic or excessive anxiety may signal the presence of an anxiety disorder. Some of the recognized anxiety disorders include:
- Panic disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Anxiety disorders can have a negative effect on your physical and mental health. In addition, quality of life can suffer, as you may avoid everyday activities that produce anxiety symptoms or self-medicate with substances. This can lead to alcohol and drug addiction, which only serves to exacerbate anxiety and cause additional life problems.
For these reasons and others, it’s crucial to seek timely treatment for anxiety. An estimated 19.1% of adults in the United States have one or more anxiety disorders. It’s entirely possible for an individual to have multiple disorders at once — for example, panic disorder and PTSD. If anxiety is affecting you negatively, keep reading to learn more about treatment options and how to find help.
Can I Take an Antihistamine for Anxiety?
If you plan to visit your doctor to discuss your anxiety or already have, medication may be recommended to manage your symptoms. A prescription isn’t always the solution your physician may suggest, but it’s a possibility that may work for some. Three commonly prescribed classes of drugs for anxiety include:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These prescription drugs take weeks to reach full effectiveness and may come with side effects. Never discontinue SSRIs or change your dose without your doctor’s supervision, as harmful effects may occur.
- Benzodiazepines. This class of prescription drug is used for panic attacks. While they can be effective for some, benzodiazepines come with a high potential for addiction, and dose effectiveness wanes over time. To avoid potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, never abruptly stop taking benzodiazepines. Your doctor will instruct you on the tapering process for safe discontinuation.
- Antihistamines. Although they’re used for seasonal allergies and skin reactions such as rashes and hives, antihistamines are also taken off-label for anxiety. As with the other two drug classes mentioned here, they’re not without risks and side effects.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll be looking at prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines such as hydroxyzine, Benadryl and Zyrtec for anxiety.
Antihistamines are used to treat allergies and allergy-like symptoms. Your doctor may recommend one of these drugs for relief of runny nose, itchy and watery eyes and other uncomfortable symptoms that accompany seasonal allergies and other allergy types. Some doctors also recommend antihistamines off-label, which means for a different purpose than originally intended.
If you’re wondering, “Does Benadryl help with anxiety?” the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. First, it’s important to ask your doctor before taking any new medication, even if it’s over-the-counter. Many OTC drugs interact with other drugs and even natural remedies, plus they may not be right for you if you have certain underlying medical conditions.
Antihistamines can have a sedating effect, which may dampen the most acute anxiety and panic symptoms until the drug leaves your system. While they may make you sleepy, these medications can also cause a groggy feeling and hangover-like effect the next day. And that’s not all — there are other side effects you may experience with any duration of antihistamine use.
Potential Side Effects of Antihistamines
It’s important to understand that both prescription and OTC types can have unwanted side effects, some of which can be life-threatening. While the exact side effects vary depending on the type of antihistamine and the user, they can include:
- Ringing of the ears (tinnitus)
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dry mouth
These are just a few of the possible side effects associated with using antihistamines for anxiety or allergies. If you’re wondering if Benadryl can cause anxiety, the answer is maybe. Some people may experience anxiety or related symptoms with this medication, such as racing heartbeat and uneasiness. Although many antihistamines are considered safe for short-term use, long-term use to treat an anxiety disorder may be harmful.
The Dangers of Off-Label Medication Use
If your doctor prescribes you an antihistamine such as hydroxyzine, it’s imperative to follow the prescription guide that comes with your medication. Not doing so can be dangerous, as can using the medication for longer than recommended.
Hydroxyzine (brand names include Vistaril and Atarax) is approved to treat anxiety symptoms. Doctors may prescribe it for mild to moderate anxiety instead of a benzodiazepine such as Valium or Xanax because the dependency risk is low. However, as with other antihistamines, hydroxyzine can have unwanted side effects that override the benefits provided.
Because antihistamines provide temporary relief for anxiety and don’t address the root of the problem, using them for this purpose can cause more harm than good for some individuals. In some cases, antihistamines depression is another potential effect of these drugs, which can worsen the original problem of anxiety.
Other therapies may prove more effective for the relief of anxiety symptoms. A multifaceted care plan that includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and lifestyle changes is one viable option to consider. While medication may or may not be a part of your treatment plan, it’s vital to seek help from qualified professionals who specialize in the treatment of anxiety and other mental health conditions.
Help for Anxiety Is Available
If you or someone you love has anxiety or panic attacks, contact Restore Mental Health for a comprehensive treatment approach designed to provide lasting relief. Our caring professionals are here to help guide you through the treatment process and onwards to a life free from debilitating anxiety.