Antihistamines selectively block the effects of histamine at the histamine-1 receptor sites, decreasing the allergic response. Antihistamines are used for the relief of symptoms associated with seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, uncomplicated urticaria, and angioedema.

Learn about the uses and nursing care plan considerations and nursing diagnoses needed for patients taking antihistamines in this nursing pharmacology study guide.

Antihistamines: Generic and Brand Names

Here is a table of commonly encountered antihistamines, their generic names, and brand names:

ClassificationGeneric nameBrand name
First generationbrompheniramineBidhist
carbinoxamineHistex, Palgic
chlorpheniramineAller-Chlor, others
dimenhydrinateDimetabs, others
diphenhydramineBenadryl, others
hydroxyzineVistaril, others
Second generation (nonsedating)azelastineAstelin

Disease Spotlight: Seasonal Rhinitis

Seasonal rhinitis is an inflammation of the nasal cavity, commonly called hay fever, that afflicts many people.

  • This condition occurs when the upper airways respond to a specific antigen (e.g., pollen, mold, dust) with a vigorous inflammatory response, resulting again in nasal congestion, sneezing, stuffiness, and watery eyes.

What are Antihistamines?

Antihistamines block the release or action of histamine, a chemical released during inflammation that increases secretions and narrows airways.

  • Antihistamines are found in multiple OTC preparations that are designed to relieve respiratory symptoms and treat allergies.
  • When choosing an antihistamine, the individual patient’s reaction to the drug is usually the governing factor.
  • Because first-generation antihistamines have greater anticholinergic effects with resultant drowsiness, a person who needs to be alert should be given one of the second-generation, less sedating antihistamines.
  • Because of their OTC availability, these drugs are often misused to treat colds and influenza.

Therapeutic Actions

The desired actions of antihistamines are as follows:

  • Selectively block the effects of histamine at the histamine-1 receptor sites, decreasing the allergic response.
  • Anticholinergic (atropine-like) and antipruritic effects.

Indication of Antihistamines

Antihistamines are indicated for the following:

  • Relief of symptoms of seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis, uncomplicated urticarial, and angioedema.
  • Relief of nasal and non-nasal symptoms of seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis.
  • Relief of discomfort associated with dermographism; used as adjunctive therapy in anaphylactic reactions.
  • Relief of nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness.

Pharmacokinetics of Antihistamines

The antihistamines are well-absorbed orally, with an onset of action ranging from 1 to 3 hours.

Oral15-30 min1-4h4-7h
IM20-30 min1-4h4-7h
IVRapid30-60 min4-8h
T 1/2: 2.5 to 7 hours | Metabolization: Liver | Excretion: Urine

Contraindications and Cautions

The following are contraindications and cautions when using antihistamines:

  • Pregnancy and lactation. Antihistamines are contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation unless the benefit to the mother clearly outweighs the potential risk to the fetus or baby.
  • Renal or hepatic impairment. They should be used with caution in renal or hepatic impairment, which could alter the metabolism and excretion of the drug.
  • Arrhythmias. Special care should be taken when these drugs are used by any patient with a history of arrhythmias or prolonged QT intervals because fatal cardiac arrhythmias have been associated with the use of certain antihistamines and drugs that increase QT intervals, including erythromycin.

Adverse Effects of Antihistamines

Adverse effects from the use of antihistamines include:

  • CNS: Drowsiness and sedation.
  • GI: Drying of the GI mucous membranes, GI upset, nausea.
  • GU: Dysuria, urinary hesitancy.
  • Skin: Skin eruption and itching.


Interactions involved in the use of antihistamines include:

  • Monoamine inhibitor (MAOI). Anticholinergic effects may be prolonged if diphenhydramine is taken with a monoamine inhibitor.
  • Ketoconazole/erythromycin. Interaction of fexofenadine with ketoconazole or erythromycin may raise fexofenadine concentrations to toxic levels.

Nursing Considerations for Antihistamines

Nursing considerations for a patient using antihistamines include the following:

Nursing Assessment

History taking and examination of a patient using antihistamines may include the following:

  • Assess for possible contraindications or cautions: any history of allergy to antihistamines; pregnancy and lactation; and prolonged QT interval, which are contraindications to the use of the drug; and renal or hepatic impairment, which requires cautious use of the drug.
  • Perform a physical examination to establish baseline data for assessing the effectiveness of the drug and the occurrence of any adverse effects associated with the drug therapy.
  • Assess the skin color, texture, and lesions to monitor for anticholinergic effects or allergy.
  • Evaluate orientation, affect, and reflexes to monitor for changes due to CNS effects.
  • Assess respirations and adventitious sounds to monitor drug effects.
  • Evaluate renal and liver function tests to monitor for factors that could affect the metabolism or excretion of the drug.

Nursing Diagnosis and Care Planning

Nursing diagnoses and nursing care plans related to medical therapy with an antihistamine may include:

  • Acute pain related to GI, CNS or skin effects of the drug.
  • Disturbed sensory perception (Kinesthetic) related to CNS effects.
  • Deficient knowledge regarding drug therapy.

Nursing Implementation with Rationale

Nursing interventions for patients using antihistamines include the following:

  • Proper administration. Administer drug on an empty stomach, 1 hour before or 2 hours after meals, to increase the absorption.
  • Drug effectiveness. Note that the patient may have a poor response to one of these agents but a very effective response to another; the prescriber may need to try several different agents to find the one that is most effective.
  • Relief from dry mouth. Because of the drying nature of antihistamines, patients often experience dry mouth, which may lead to nausea and anorexia; suggest sugarless candies or lozenges to relieve some of the discomforts.
  • Safety measures. Provide safety measures as appropriate if CNS effects occur to prevent patient injury.
  • Increase fluid intake. Increase humidity and push fluids to decrease the problem of thickened secretions and dry nasal mucosa.
  • Ensure voiding. Have patient void before each dose to decrease urinary retention if this is a problem.
  • Skin care. Provide skin care as needed if skin dryness and lesions become a problem to prevent skin breakdown.
  • Avoid alcohol. Caution the patient to avoid alcohol while taking these drugs because serious sedation can occur.
  • Avoid OTC drugs. Caution the patient to avoid excessive dose and to check OTC drugs for the presence of antihistamines, which are found in many OTC preparations and could cause toxicity.
  • Health teaching. Provide thorough patient teaching, including the drug name and prescribed dosage measure to help avoid adverse effects, warning signs that may indicate problems, and the need for periodic monitoring and evaluation, to enhance patient knowledge about the drug therapy and promote compliance.
  • Encourage patient support. Offer support and encouragement to help the patient cope with the disease and the drug regimen.


Evaluation of a patient using antihistamines include:

  • Monitor patient response to the drug (relief of the symptoms of allergic rhinitis).
  • Monitor for adverse effects (skin dryness, GI upset, sedation and drowsiness, urinary retention, thickened secretions, glaucoma).
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching plan (patient can name drug, dosage, adverse effects to watch for, specific measures to avoid them, and measures to take to increase the effectiveness of the drug.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of comfort and safety measures and compliance with the regimen.

Practice Quiz: Antihistamines

Here’s a 5-item quiz for this antihistamine study guide. Please visit our nursing test bank page for more NCLEX practice questions.

1. A nurse is giving teachings to a client receiving Desloratadine (Clarinex). Which of the following statements made by the client will need further instructions?

A. “I can eat gum after I drink the medicine”
B. “I can take the medicine on an empty stomach“
C. “I should avoid using alcohol”
D. “I will avoid driving while using this medication”

1. Answer: B. “I can take the medicine on an empty stomach”.

  • Option B: This medicine should be taken with food or milk to minimize gastrointestinal upset.
  • Option A: Use gum or hard candy to minimize dry mouth.
  • Options C and D: The medication causes drowsiness so avoid taking alcohol or engaging in activities which require mental alertness such as driving a car.

2. Nurse Zeke is giving instructions to her client who is taking antihistamine. Which of the following nurse teachings is appropriate for the client?

A. Expect a relief in 24 hours
B. Be aware that you may have increased saliva
C. Be aware that you may need to take a decongestant
D. Avoid ingesting alcohol

2. Answer: D. Avoid ingesting alcohol.

  • Option D: Because alcohol and antihistamines have sedating properties, concurrent administration of these drugs should be avoided.
  • Option A: Not all antihistamines last 24 hours.
  • Option B: Dry mouth is a common side effect, not increased salivation.
  • Option C: Antihistamines and decongestants are often given together.

3. Andrew has vertigo, which antihistamine is best for his condition?

A. Terfenadine
B. Guaifenesin
C. Meclizine
D. Hydrocodone

3. Answer: C. Meclizine.

  • Option C: Meclizine (Antivert) is given for vertigo and motion sickness.
  • Option A: Terfenadine is an antihistamine, but meclizine is the standard drug in the treatment of vertigo.
  • Option B and D: Choices C and D are not antihistamines.

4. Raul, a 20-year-old student, used to buy OTC drugs whenever he feels sick. Which of the following statements best describes the danger of self-medication with over-the-counter drugs?

A. Clients are not aware of the action of over-the-counter drugs.
B. Clients are not aware of the side effects of over-the-counter drugs.
C. Clients minimize the effects of over-the-counter drugs because they are available without a prescription.
D. Clients do not realize the effects of over-the-counter drugs.

4. Answer: C. Clients minimize the effects of over-the-counter drugs because they are available without a prescription.

  • Option C: This choice is correct because it includes the other three risks noted in choices A, B, and D.

5. Which histamine-2 antagonist is associated with the most drug interactions?

A. Prilosec
B. Nizatidine
C. Ranitidine
D. Cimetidine

5. Answer: D. Cimetidine.

Option D: Cimetidine was the first histamine-2 antagonist developed and is associated with the most toxic drug interactions of the group.

Recommended Resources

Recommended resources and reference books. Disclosure: Includes Amazon affiliate links.

  1. Focus on Nursing Pharmacology – Easy to follow guide for Pharmacology
  2. NCLEX-RN Drug Guide: 300 Medications You Need to Know for the Exam – Great if you’re reviewing for the NCLEX
  3. Nursing 2017 Drug Handbook (Nursing Drug Handbook) – Reliable nursing drug handbook!
  4. Lehne’s Pharmacology for Nursing Care – Provides key information on commonly used drugs in nursing
  5. Pharmacology and the Nursing Process – Learn how to administer drugs correctly and safely!
  6. Pharm Phlash Cards!: Pharmacology Flash Cards – Flash Cards for Nursing Pharmacology

See Also

Here are other nursing pharmacology study guides:

Gastrointestinal System Drugs

Respiratory System Drugs

Endocrine System Drugs

Autonomic Nervous System Drugs

Immune System Drugs

Chemotherapeutic Agents

Reproductive System Drugs

Nervous System Drugs

Cardiovascular System Drugs

References and Sources

The following are the recommended supplemental reading for this antihistamine nursing pharmacology study guide:

  • Roth, T., Roehrs, T., Koshorek, G., Sicklesteel, J., & Zorick, F. (1987). Sedative effects of antihistamines. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology80(1), 94-98.
  • Vallerand, A. H. (2018). Davis’s drug guide for nurses. FA Davis. [Link]
  • Woosley, R. L. (1996). Cardiac actions of antihistamines. Annual review of pharmacology and toxicology36(1), 233-252.

Marianne is a staff nurse during the day and a Nurseslabs writer at night. She is a registered nurse since 2015 and is currently working in a regional tertiary hospital and is finishing her Master's in Nursing this June. As an outpatient department nurse, she is a seasoned nurse in providing health teachings to her patients making her also an excellent study guide writer for student nurses. Marianne is also a mom of a toddler going through the terrible twos and her free time is spent on reading books!