Twenty-one sedative and five non-sedating antihistamines are presently available on the UK market. Analysis of spontaneous reports of suspected adverse drug reactions was performed for those drugs with more than 90 reported reactions on the UK ADROIT database to the period ending 31 December 1997. Thus nine antihistamines, (four sedative antihistamines and five non-sedating antihistamines) were included. For each of the four sedative agents (azatidine, chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine and trimeprazine), reactions associated with the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, central nervous systems, the skin, general and psychiatric reactions made up more than 70% of total reported reactions. For all four agents, fatal reactions constituted less than 2.5% of total reactions. For each of the five non-sedating agents (acrivastine, astemizole, cetirizine, loratidine and terfenadine), reactions associated with the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal central nervous systems, the skin, general and psychiatric disorders together made up more than 75% of total reported reactions. For all five non-sedating agents, fatal reactions constituted less than 1% of total reactions. However, there were 21 reports of fatality in association with terfenadine, 11 (52%) of which were either sudden deaths or those associated with a cardiac rate of rhythm reaction. Analysis of the WHO database for non-sedating drugs showed a similar pattern, with terfenadine being associated with the highest frequency of reports of potentially serious arrhythmias and of sudden death and death related to disturbances of cardiac rate and rhythm combined. Despite the limitations of spontaneous reporting systems, comparison of the benefit–risk profiles of drugs using this data within a class of drugs can provide valuable information, and pharmacovigilance of antihistamines (and all other agents) using this and other means should continue for the lifetime of their use in humans.