Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wasted Wednesday: Claritin

A few weeks ago I went to an allergist for the first time, and got that fun test where they prick the soft undersides of both your arms with stuff that's likely to irritate you. It's kind of like plunging your forearms into a terrarium full of bees and biting flies.

Anyway, the allergist was full of interesting information, including this tidbit: You know that popular and expensive ($1/day) OTC antihistamine Claritin? You know, "Claritin clear" as the commercials say?

It does not work.

I had noticed myself that when I took a generic version of Claritin that it didn't help my miserable summer eye allergies. But I assumed that was just me. No, here's a New York Times Magazine piece from back in 2001 (when Claritin was really expensive, like $80 a month)

In one passage the NYT story explains that Claritin performs just a little better than a sugar pill:

"In one study, for example, people taking Claritin experienced a 46
percent improvement in symptoms at the end of the trial; patients
taking a placebo reported 35percent improvement. In another trial,
Claritin produced 43 percent improvement versus 32 percent on placebo."

Here's my allergist's explanation why: Antihistamines make us drowsy. Claritin contains a very low dose of antihistamine, too low to have much of a drowsiness effect. It's also too low to have much of an allergy relief effect. You would have to take about four Claritin to get effective allergy relief, but they can't tell you to take that much, because if you did, it would make you sleepy. And then they couldn't market it as the non-drowsy antihistamine.

He prescribed me Allegra, which he called the only truly non-drowsy antihistamine.