Some people with MS take Benadryl to ease infusion treatment reactions and certain symptoms. But depending on your symptoms, it may not be the best option.
There’s been a lot of interest and excitement around the use of antihistamines, especially diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for multiple sclerosis (MS) in the last few years.
According to Kevin C. Gaffney, MD, most of the interest stems from a 2017 study looking at the use of clemastine, an older antihistamine. The results suggested that clemastine could alter the immune system of people with MS.
But according to Gaffney, “no one was able to reproduce the results of the original study, and we were never able to show a clear benefit compared to the known side effects.”
While there’s no evidence to suggest Benadryl or other antihistamines help with treating MS, they may offer some benefit for managing certain symptoms and easing reactions to infusion treatments.
Here are some potential benefits of over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines for people living with MS:
Reduced reactions to treatments
Infusion treatments for MS can cause reactions with symptoms that range from mild to severe, including
- pain or swelling at the injection site
When taken before, or sometimes during, an infusion treatment, an antihistamine may help to reduce these symptoms.
Steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and pain relievers (such as acetaminophen) may also be used for this purpose.
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Association (MSAA), more than half of people living with MS experience sleep issues. This can be caused by several things, from spasticity and frequent leg movements to bladder issues and depression.
Antihistamines, particularly diphenhydramine (Benadryl), are sometimes used as an alternative to sleeping pills because of their sedating effect, but these benefits may not always outweigh the risks.
For one, they can leave you feeling groggy the next day. “Memory problems and fatigue are already major issues for MS patients, and these symptoms are likely to get worse with diphenhydramine,” says Gaffney.
Plus, while it may help you fall asleep, antihistamines don’t necessarily translate to better quality sleep.
If you’re experiencing sleep issues, talk with your care team before trying antihistamines to determine whether it’s the best option for you.
Lesions on the part of the brain responsible for balance can cause dizziness and vertigo, which can make you feel off-balance, lightheaded, or like your surroundings are spinning.
Some people find that Benadryl, as well as over-the-counter anti-motion sickness and anti-nausea medications, help with dizziness.
While these may offer a temporary fix, it’s best to talk with a healthcare professional if you experience dizziness or vertigo often. These may be a side effect of another medication or a sign of an underlying issue with your inner ear.
A lot of the anecdotal evidence around using antihistamines for MS symptoms involved Benadryl. But all OTC antihistamines work similarly. The main difference is in their side effects.
For example, non-sedating antihistamines, like fexofenadine (Allegra) and loratadine (Claritin), provide the effects of an antihistamine without the drowsiness that Benadryl tends to cause.
Gaffney notes that non-sedating antihistamines might be preferable for managing allergies if you have MS since they won’t worsen symptoms like brain fog.
Benadryl and some other antihistamines can the following side effects:
- sleepiness and drowsiness
- blurred vision
- low blood pressure
- difficulty urinating
Non-drowsy antihistamines don’t typically cause sleepiness but may cause other side effects, including:
- dry mouth
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Before taking any antihistamine to help with MS symptoms, talk with your care team. Be sure to mention any other medications (including OTC medications, vitamins, and supplements) you take.
Depending on your symptoms, they may recommend an alternative to antihistamines or give additional guidance on how to safely incorporate antihistamines into your care plan.
Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is sometimes used in a clinical setting to help reduce the effects of infusion MS treatments. But there may be better options for use at home, depending on your symptoms.
Your care team can help you decide which antihistamine — if any — is right for you.