Whether Claritin now available as the generic loratadine actually works at the currently approved dose remains an issue. Originally an FDA examiner believed no less than 40 mg was necessary to provide effective relief of allergic nasal symptoms. Unfortunately at this dose drowsiness occurs and the label could no longer boast of non-sedating qualities. At the current daily dose of 10mg, the drug works somewhat better than a placebo. For most people troubled by seasonal or perennial allergies, Flonase, Rhinocort or Nasonex remain more effective.

A barrage of direct-to-consumer advertising introduced Claritin to the marketplace.  Claritin along with a competitor Allegra almost overnight became synonymous with anti-histamines and anti-allergy medication.  At first requiring a prescription, these costly drugs siphoned exorbitant financial resources away from more critical areas of need.  Finally when their patents ended and multiple generic drug companies began to mass market them, prices plummeted.

Except for their ability to demand unreasonably high prices, no special advantages result from taking these second generation anti-histamines.  They tend not to cross the mythical blood-brain barrier and as a result generally do not interfere with wakefulness or ability to concentrate.  On the other hand Claritin and related products (Allegra / fexofenadine or Zyrtec / cetirizine) fail to provide the same anti-histamine benefits as the first generation products typified by Benadryl / diphenhydramine.

As an example of the lunacy of drug pricing, Claritin – the brand name product – sold for more than $3 a pill when it was a prescription product.  Shopping for the generic loratidine at a discounter like Costco or Sam’s Club offers the possibility of buying a year’s supply for only about $0.03 a pill.

Why the difference?  Prescription versus over-the-counter.  Brand name versus generic.  Monopoly versus mass marketing.  In the final analysis, no legitimate medical reason ever existed for Claritin to cost so much or even to be a prescription drug.  It’s a harmless anti-histamine less likely to cause drowsiness compared to Benadryl or similar products and certainly much less likely to cause harm than alcohol or tobacco.

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