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Best Buy Drugs for allergies

Last reviewed: February 2011
Astepro ad of man talking
Nasal sprays carry risks, so use with caution if other means don’t work.

If you suffer from hay fever or other seasonal allergies, you know that when the pollen count goes up, congestion, sneezing, and watery eyes follow. Now there are even more choices for relief. Pharmacy shelves are packed with older antihistamines, such as Benadryl, and newer formulations, such as Claritin. But which ones are best?

Newer antihistamines aren't any more effective at relieving allergy symptoms than older ones, but they are less likely to cause drowsiness. They also have the convenience of once-a-day dosing. But those advantages come with a higher price. Newer medicines, which include loratadine (Claritin and generic) and cetirizine (Zyrtec and generic), run from about $4 to more than $100 per month for prescription strength.

Although drowsiness is less of a problem if you opt for one of the newer antihistamines, you'll still have to watch out for that and other side effects, particularly with high doses. And don't ignore a rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations. They are rare side effects, but if they occur, see your doctor. If you take allergy medications regularly, also see your doctor. Up to one-third of people with allergy symptoms don't actually have allergies; other conditions, such as a cold or even reactions to certain drugs, can cause the sneezing, congestion, or runny nose typical of allergies.

CR Best Buys

  • Generic loratadine
  • Alavert (loratadine)

They are inexpensive medications and are available without a prescription.

Less impressive

  • Azelastine (Astelin, Astepro, and generic), Olopatadine (Patanase). They are nasal sprays that are linked to smell and taste problems and the possibility of birth defects. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should avoid them.
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra), desloratadine (Clarinex), and levocetirizine (Xyzal). These are all expensive brand-name drugs available by prescription only. Fexofenadine is available as a generic but it is still expensive.

Astepro vs. Loratadine

Newer antihistamines are less likely to cause drowsiness, but they cost more than older drugs. Inexpensive generics are the best option.

Brand-name or top-selling drug CR Best Buy Drug Monthly savings
Astepro Four 137-mcg sprays twice per day $72/month
Loratadine (generic) One 10-mg pill per day $4/month
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