Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell
By Dr. Lawrence Jones II
Antihistamines are frequently used to treat allergy symptoms, especially during the Fall and Spring seasons. Climates with leaves falling plants flowering, and extreme changes in temperature in a given day can produce environments with many allergens. Unfortunately, antihistamine misuse is on the rise and has been documented primarily in adolescents and young adults around the country. The misuse may be unintentional, but in some cases, the misuse of antihistamines is intentional.
NIH(2022) defines an antihistamine as “a type of drug that blocks the action of histamines, which can cause fever, itching, sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes. Antihistamines prevent fevers in patients receiving blood transfusions and treat allergies, coughs, and colds.” Dinwiddie and associates (October 14, 2022) report that antihistamine involvement overdose deaths is a topic that requires more study. They report that various antihistamine subtypes can cause anticholinergic effects, including solid sedation and worsen when used with other sedative drugs, such as opioids.
Dinwiddie and associates consider that their survey in 44 jurisdictions might not be nationally representative. Also, they keep in mind that drug testing methods are not standardized across jurisdictions, which could limit the interpretation of results. Even though there may be limitations, data on antihistamine misuse could reveal the importance of continued surveillance to understand the drugs and drug combinations contributing to overdose deaths. The CDC analyzed 2019–2020 data from the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS) in 43 states and the District of Columbia.
Just recently, George (October 13, 2022) reports that “Antihistamines were involved in at least 15% of recent overdose deaths, according to 2019-2020 data from 43 states and the District of Columbia. Of 92,033 overdose deaths, 14.7% were antihistamine-positive, and 3.6% were antihistamine-involved.” Death was defined as antihistamine-positive if any antihistamine was detected in an autopsy toxicology test; the cause of death was antihistamine related on the death certificate. Descriptive data for deaths are presented by sex, age, race, and ethnicity.
Researchers at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in Atlanta report that the rise of antihistamine-related deaths typically was Benadryl; 71.1% of antihistamine-positive fatalities and 66.5% of antihistamine-involved deaths). Although Benadryl is a common, over-the-counter medication, caution must be applied when using opioids. In addition, all medicines have side effects. The Narrative Matter
Dinwiddie AT, Tanz LJ, Bitting J. (October 14, 2022).Notes from the Field: Antihistamine Positivity and Involvement in Drug Overdose Deaths — 44 Jurisdictions, United States, 2019–2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2022;71:1308–1310. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7141a4
George, J. (October 13, 2022). Allergy Meds May Make Drug Overdoses More Dangerous, CDC Says. Allergy Meds May Make Drug Overdoses More Dangerous, CDC Says | MedPage Today
NIH. (2022). Antihistamine. Definition of antihistamine - NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms - NCI