Everything you need is probably sitting in your medicine cabinet

OCT vs. Rx

Which is better? Cheaper over-the-counter remedies are often your best bet.

It can be tempting to run to a doctor for a prescription when you’re miserable with symptoms like nonstop sneezing or nagging knee pain, or when you’ve had a few sleepless nights. But the best relief might already be in your medicine cabinet. For common ailments like allergies, pain, and insomnia, over-the-counter drugs may be the way to go. Sure, there are prescription meds you can take. But OTC drugs can save you money, and some work just as well or better and may cause fewer or less severe side effects. In many cases, trying an OCT drug first can also save you time and money by cutting down on doctor visits. To help you find the best treatments for your symptoms, we ShopSmart teamed up with the experts at Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, who look for cost-saving options that are also the most effective. They recently reviewed hundreds of studies and came up with the following advice. They also calculated the potential savings of going OTC, though your actual savings may depend on your insurance coverage.


Instead of Allegra (fexofenadine), Clarinex (desloratadine), or Xyzal (levocetirzine)

GO OTC Alavert, Claritin (or generic loratadine), or Zyrtec (cetirizine)

Save as much as $148 a month

Why switch? Antihistamines block the chemical messenger histamine, one of the body’s natural defense mechanisms and the main trigger of allergy symptoms in the nose, airways, and skin. Studies show that “newer” antihistamines – both prescription and OTC, such as those listed above – are similarly effective. They all generally bring some relief in 1 to 3 hours and continue to work for 12 to 24 hours for most people. But keep in mind that even if you have just milk allergies, you might need to try a few before finding one that works best for you. Some people respond well to one antihistamine while not finding relief with another.

When to see a doctor She will be able to tell if your symptoms are caused by an allergy. Studies have found that some people who take prescription meds don’t actually have the condition. You could have a cold, a mild case of the flu, bronchitis, or sinusitis. But if any of those symptoms persist or are accompanied by high fever, shortness of breath, or wheezing, seek help. Also consult a doctor before taking these drugs if you have high blood pressure, a heart condition, diabetes, closed-angle glaucoma, or prostate disease.

Prevent it in the first place Stay inside during peak allergy days. A Consumer Reports National Research Center survey showed that one in five Americans were “highly satisfied” with symptom relief achieved by avoiding allergy triggers. They said that when it worked this strategy was even more effective than treating their allergies with OTC drugs.

Drugstore Remedies to Avoid

Taking combo drugs that treat multiple symptoms – such as headaches, achiness, and fever – can lead to dangerous overdoses. In 2011 the manufacturer of Extra Strength Tylenol lowered the maximum daily dosage from eight pills to six pills to help people avoid taking too much acetaminophen, which can lead to liver damage. The reason: Acetaminophen is an active ingredient in hundreds of OTC products, many of which are combo formulas for colds, flu, allergies, and sinus problems but laxatives, pain relievers, sleep aids, and indigestion treatments can also contain more than one active ingredient. So before taking a second drug to treat an unrelated symptom, such as a headache when you just have a cough and sore throat, always check the active ingredients to make sure you’re not overdoing it.

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