Spring allergy sufferers have a new option: over-the-counter Allegra Allergy. It’s the same as the prescription version of the drug. But don’t breathe a sigh of relief too quickly—for most people, it’s no better than similar drugs already on the market and costs more.
Allegra Allergy (fexofenadine) does ease allergy symptoms, and it’s less likely than some other antihistamines to cause drowsiness. But the same is true for loratadine, a drug available under the brand name Claritin that’s also sold as a generic or store brand for much less than Allegra Allergy.
For example, we found a 30-day supply of Allegra Allergy for $19.99 at Drugstore.com and $25.88 at Walmart.com. But a 30-day supply of generic loratadine at Drugstore.com was $6.99, and the Walmart store-brand version of loratadine (Equate) was just $3.81 for 30 pills. Those are some of the reasons generic loratadine was our recent Best Buy Drugs pick for allergy drugs.
Of course, not all allergy drugs work equally well for all people. In fact, our survey published last year found that allergy sufferers tried an average of three medications to get relief, and 26 percent tried five or more. Some even took two or more medications simultaneously to treat different symptoms. So if loratadine doesn’t work for you, it might be worth giving Allegra Allergy a try.
But it can also be worth trying a number of other options, including:
• Cetirizine (Zyrtec Allergy and generic), which is available as an over-the-counter generic but might be more likely to cause sedation than loratadine or Allegra.
• Older antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy and generic) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton and generic), which not only can cause drowsiness but also dry eyes and mouth, and urinary retention, and should be avoided by people with narrow-angle glaucoma or an enlarged prostate.
• Desloratadine (Clarinex), which is still only available as an expensive, brand-name prescription drug.
Finally, lifestyle changes, such as staying indoors when the pollen count is high, can also help. While only one in five respondents in our survey said they were "highly satisfied" with such measures, when they did work they were even more effective than OTC drugs.
To help determine which treatment might be best for you, use our Trouble Tracker tool. Also consider talking with a doctor. Nearly 60 percent of the people in our survey said seeing a doctor helped them rein in their symptoms.
Bottom line: OTC Allegra Allergy might be a boon for some allergy sufferers. But we think most people who require medication to ease allergies should start with generic loratadine, which is generally just as safe and effective and costs less.
Also keep in mind that having a drug move from prescription to over-the-counter isn’t necessarily a financial benefit. That’s because while insurers typically cover the cost of prescription drugs or only require a co-pay, they might make you foot the entire bill once a nonprescription version of the drug becomes available.
Check the pollen count in your area. [American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology]