Cochrane for Clinicians

Putting Evidence into Practice

Oral H1 Antihistamines as Add-on Therapy to Topical Treatment for Eczema


Am Fam Physician. 2019 Nov 1;100(9):541-542.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.

Clinical Question

Are oral H1 antihistamines effective add-on therapy to topical treatments for eczema?

Evidence-Based Answer

In children with eczema, there is no evidence to support the addition of oral H1 antihistamines to standard treatment regimens. In adults, the use of fexofenadine (Allegra), 120 mg per day, improves patient-assessed eczema symptoms compared with placebo (number needed to treat = 11; 95% CI, 5.5 to 255).1 (Strength of Recommendation: B, based on inconsistent or limited-quality patient-oriented evidence.)

Practice Pointers

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition resulting in an itchy, red rash that affects roughly 31.6 million people in the United States.2 The disease occurs in 13% of children and 7% of adults,3,4 and significantly affects quality of life. Patients with eczema report that the disease causes embarrassment and frustration and interferes with daily activities, and children report being bullied in school.5,6 Conventional eczema treatment involves topical emollients, corticosteroids, and immunomodulators. However, some patient resources mention oral antihistamines as a possible treatment option.7,8

This Cochrane review included 25 randomized controlled trials with 3,285 participants (1,344 adults and 1,941 children).1 In total, 13 oral H1 antihistamines were studied. Primary outcomes included change in patient-assessed symptoms of eczema and the adverse effect rate reported by participants. Secondary outcomes included change in physician-assessed clinical signs of eczema, change in patient-reported quality of life, and number of eczema flare-ups. The authors reported the effects from specific trials instead of pooling the data because the studies used different oral H1 antihistamines, topical agents (mostly different potency corticosteroids), and durations of treatment.

The reviewers found no evidence demonstrating improvement in primary or secondary outcomes with the use of cetirizine (Zyrtec) or loratadine (Claritin) in children

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.


show all references

1. Matterne U, Böhmer MM, Weisshaar E, et al. Oral H1 antihistamines as ‘add-on’ therapy to topical treatment for eczema. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019;(1):CD012167....

2. Hanifin JM, Reed ML; Eczema Prevalence and Impact Working Group. A population-based survey of eczema prevalence in the United States. Dermatitis. 2007;18(2):82–91.

3. Silverberg JI, Simpson EL. Associations of childhood eczema severity: a US population-based study. Dermatitis. 2014;25(3):107–114.

4. Silverberg JI. Public health burden and epidemiology of atopic dermatitis. Dermatol Clin. 2017;35(3):283–289.

5. Anderson RT, Rajagopalan R. Effects of allergic dermatosis on health-related quality of life. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 2001;1(4):309–315.

6. National Eczema Association. In your words. 2017. Accessed March 13, 2019.

7. American Academy of Family Physicians. Eczema and atopic dermatitis. Updated June 8, 2017. Accessed March 13, 2019.

8. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Atopic dermatitis. Updated July 2016. Accessed March 13, 2019.

9. Wollenberg A, Barbarot S, Bieber T, et al. Consensus-based European guidelines for treatment of atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis) in adults and children: part I [published correction appears in J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2019;33(7):1436]. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2018;32(5):657–682.

10. Eichenfield LF, Tom WL, Berger TG, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis: section 2. Management and treatment of atopic dermatitis with topical therapies. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;71(1):116–132.

These are summaries of reviews from the Cochrane Library.

This series is coordinated by Corey D. Fogleman, MD, assistant medical editor.

A collection of Cochrane for Clinicians published in AFP is available at



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