Background As regards central nervous system (CNS) effects there are three types of antihistamines. Those that cross the blood-brain barrier and cause widespread impairment of cognitive and psychomotor function; those that cross into the brain and, although without much impairment at low clinical doses, have a dose-related relationship to impairment; and those that do not cross into the brain and therefore possess no intrinsic potential for impairing CNS function.
Objecitve To investigate the acute effects of fexofenadine (360 mg) on various aspects of cognitive and psychomotor function in comparison to placebo and promethazine (positive internal control), an antihistamine known to produce psychomotor and cognitive impairment.
Methods Fifteen healthy volunteers received fexofenadine 360 mg, promethazine 30 mg and placebo in a 3-way cross-over, double-blind study. For each treatment condition, subjects were required to perform a series of tests of cognitive function and psychomotor performance at baseline and 1, 3, 5 and 7 h post-dose. The test battery consisted of critical flicker fusion (CFF), choice reaction time (CRT), compensatory tracking task (CTT) and a subjective assessment of sedation (LARS).
Results Fexofenadine was not distinguishable from placebo in any of the objective and subjective tests for up to seven hours following drug administration. However, all measures were significantly impaired following the administration of promethazine, which confirms the sensitivity of the test battery for sedation. The effects of fexofenadine and placebo were not significantly different from one another, whereas promethazine caused an overall reduction in CFF thresholds when compared to placebo (P < 0.05). There was an overall significant increase (impairment) in recognition, motor and total reaction time (P < 0.05), and both the tracking accuracy and reaction time aspects of CTT were significantly impaired (P < 0.05) following the administration of promethazine. In contrast, the effects of fexofenadine could not be distinguished from the placebo condition. Subjective ratings of sedation were significantly higher with promethazine when compared to placebo (P < 0.05) and fexofenadine (P < 0.05).
Conclusions Fexofenadine at a dose of 360 mg is demonstrably free from disruptive effects on aspects of psychomotor and cognitive function in a study where the psychometric assessments have been shown to be sensitive to impairment, as evidenced by the effects of the verum control promethazine 30 mg.
The identification of an antihistamine (fexofenadine) devoid of central effects even at supra-clinical doses separates it from currently available first and second generation drugs with no objective evidence of CNS side-effects on cognition and psychomotor function, and highlights the need for the introduction of a third generation of non-sedative antihistamines.