Zyrtec goes OTC this month: Good News or Bad?

James Thompson, MD Health Pro
  • Zyrtec, a brand of cetirizine will soon be available without prescription.


    The good news:


    1) No doctor visit required to purchase this antihistamine.

    2) Availability of a potent, low sedating anthistamine markedy increases.

    3) Zyrtec is less sedating than many other OTC antihistamines and is available in a once daily preparation. Loratadine is the only other once daily low or non-sedating antihistamine available OTC (but less potent compared to Zyrtec according to a number of clinical trials).


    The bad news:


    1) Zyrtec may be less affordable to many patients and probably cost considerably more than previous copays (which covered a 30-60 day supply).

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    2) The quantity of OTC meds sold, are usually less than a 30 day supply. More frequent trips to the pharmacy may be required unless one is prepared to spend more for larger quantities.

    3) Prices may fluctuate more month to month (good when it goes down).

    4) Patients with moderate to severe allergic nasal disease or chronic hives may be more inconsistent with daily doses based on above points (costs) and furthermore miss out on a number of other important suggestions typically covered in office visits (esp. allergy office visits).


    As a board certified allergist I have mixed feelings about Zyrtec going OTC (related to some of the above points)


    A final bad point would be that insurance companies may make it more difficult for doctors to prescribe antihistamines that are still available by prescription only. As we (physicians) experienced when Claritin went OTC years ago, some insurance companies may force doctors to document that patients have first tried and failed OTC Zyrtec or Claritin before allowing coverage of a prescription antihistamine. Time will tell regarding this matter.


Published On: January 18, 2008