Second-generation antihistamines: a comparative review

Drugs. 1999 Jan;57(1):31-47. doi: 10.2165/00003495-199957010-00004.


Second-generation histamine H1 receptor antagonists (antihistamines) have been developed to reduce or eliminate the sedation and anticholinergic adverse effects that occur with older H1 receptor antagonists. This article evaluates second-generation antihistamines, including acrivastine, astemizole, azelastine, cetirizine, ebastine, fexofenadine, ketotifen, loratadine, mizolastine and terfenadine, for significant features that affect choice. In addition to their primary mechanism of antagonising histamine at the H1 receptor, these agents may act on other mediators of the allergic reaction. However, the clinical significance of activity beyond that mediated by histamine H1 receptor antagonism has yet to be demonstrated. Most of the agents reviewed are metabolised by the liver to active metabolites that play a significant role in their effect. Conditions that result in accumulation of astemizole, ebastine and terfenadine may prolong the QT interval and result in torsade de pointes. The remaining agents reviewed do not appear to have this risk. For allergic rhinitis, all agents are effective and the choice should be based on other factors. For urticaria, cetirizine and mizolastine demonstrate superior suppression of wheal and flare at the dosages recommended by the manufacturer. For atopic dermatitis, as adjunctive therapy to reduce pruritus, cetirizine, ketotifen and loratadine demonstrate efficacy. Although current evidence does not suggest a primary role for these agents in the management of asthma, it does support their use for asthmatic patients when there is coexisting allergic rhinitis, dermatitis or urticaria.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy
  • Drug Interactions
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists* / pharmacokinetics
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists* / pharmacology
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists* / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / drug therapy
  • Urticaria / drug therapy


  • Histamine H1 Antagonists