In-Depth: Study shows over-the-counter antihistamines can help with long COVID

UC Irvine study identifies highlights two cases
Posted at 6:10 AM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 10:38:52-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Relief for millions of people suffering from long COVID could be as close as a corner drugstore.

A new study from UC Irvine highlights two cases where women who took Benadryl had near-immediate improvements in their long COVID symptoms.

"We don't know who else this is going to work for, or if it will work for anyone else," says Dr. Melissa Pinto, the study's lead author and an Associate Professor of Nursing at the UC Irvine Sue and Bill Gross School of Nursing. "But when you know nothing about a problem, it's really important that you document if something gets a benefit because you need to leave a trail for others to follow to continue the scientific investigation."

Dr. Pinto says these two women's cases are significant because neither expected any relief from the Benadryl. Both took it for allergy-related issues. That removes what scientists call a "placebo" effect, where people can believe a medicine they're taking is helping when, in reality, it isn't.

One of the women took Benadryl to help with a cheese allergy. She reported that long COVID symptoms, including brain fog, fatigue, headaches, and rashes, all went away. The woman says they all came back when the medicine wore off.

The other woman in the study took Benadryl to help with seasonal allergies. She told researchers that her brain fog lifted, fatigue went away, and she could exercise again.

Dr. Pinto says she's not sure why the Benadryl helped, but she's heard thousands of similar stories from other long COVID patients.

Her team at UC Irvine is working with Survivor Corps, an online support group for people with long COVID. The idea that antihistamines could help with symptoms has come up in their group thousands of times.

"It was loud and clear," says Diana Berrent, the founder of Survivor Corps. "That was the reason to study it. But we need more research."

Berrent and Pinto want the NIH to fund a complete, randomized, double-blind study into antihistamines as a cure for long COVID.

Until that happens, doctors in San Diego say they're not ready to recommend antihistamines as a treatment.

"I certainly wish there was a kind of magic bullet for long COVID," says Dr. Lucy Horton from UC San Diego Health. "But right now, there isn't anything, and I'm not aware of anything on the horizon."

Dr. Horton runs the long COVID clinic at UC San Diego Health. She says many patients are getting better through a combination of therapies. But antihistamines aren't the answer yet.

"There have been a lot of therapies that have had a lot of excitement and then be proven to not actually work," she says. "Like Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin, for example."

In the meantime, Dr. Pinto calls her study a critical first step. She's hopeful it leads to a long-term solution for people with long COVID.

"These patients are desperate to feel better," says Dr. Pinto. "They'll try anything to feel better."