Can You Count on Generics to Get You Through Allergy Season?

When allergy symptoms kick in, you want relief you can count on. But as you’re standing in the medicine aisle, you may be wondering if paying more for brand names is really worth it. After all, allergy season in North Texas can last a long time for some, so that price difference can add up — fast.

We spoke to Sherrie Pierce, a registered nurse and family nurse practitioner at City of Fort Worth Employee Health Center – Huguley, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, to shed some light on generic medication and some helpful tips ahead of allergy season.

In order for a generic medication to get the stamp of approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), the medication must be considered a “bioequivalent” to its brand-name counterpart. That means chemically the two medications must be almost identical. Even though the FDA does allow a 20 percent variation in the active ingredient from the original formula, many generics have a much smaller percentage of variance.

However, while companies are required to get their generic medication as close to the original as possible, they aren’t required to prove that the two versions are therapeutically equivalent, meaning they don’t have to prove that patients will respond to the generic the same way they do the brand-name version.

While that may not seem reassuring, Pierce says research has shown that, most of the time, generics seem to perform the same as brand-name medications.    

“Since the FDA requires manufacturers of generic drugs to prove that they have the same active ingredient as the brand name drug, the efficacy should, in general, not be different,” she says. “If there is a difference in the product, it is with the inactive ingredients or the base used to deliver the active ingredient.”

Pierce does note that, while uncommon, patients can have a reaction to or problem with a certain inactive ingredient or combination of inactive ingredients that may not be present in the brand-name version of that medication. In that case, she suggests stopping use of the medication and reaching out to your doctor. Many times, though, patients won’t notice a difference between a generic or a brand-name medication.

So, if the chemical makeup of a brand-name medication and its generic counterpart are almost identical, what makes up for the price difference? Unlike the generic manufacturer, the original pharmaceutical company has to pay for more than just the actual production of that medication. It’s been estimated that the cost to develop and win marketing approval for a new drug is $2.6 billion. Plus, the original manufacturer also pays for research and development for medications that failed in trials and can’t be brought to market.

Ask anyone what they consider when purchasing something and “price” would probably be in the top three answers. The same holds true for medication, and while many wouldn’t want to skimp when it comes to their health, when it comes to buying generic or not buying anything at all, Pierce says generics are a clear winner.

While the choice to purchase generic or brand-name is mostly up to personal preference since the efficacy is almost identical, one thing Pierce does say consumers should be conscious of when perusing the medicine aisle is the ever-popular multi-symptom relief medication. During allergy season, you may be experiencing a multitude of symptoms, but Pierce suggests keeping it simple to avoid possible interactions.

“When multiple over-the-counter medications or multi-symptom relief medications are used, it can lead to the duplication of medications and drug-to-drug interactions,” she explains. “For this reason, I recommend sticking to only one or two active ingredients and avoiding the multi-symptom medications.”

To get ahead of allergy symptoms before they start, Pierce suggests being proactive before and during allergy season. If you are prone to allergies during a certain time of the year, taking maintenance medication before the season starts, even if you don’t have symptoms yet, and during the season can help prevent flare-ups that could possibly require more medications or a trip to the doctor.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends the following strategies to avoid seasonal allergy triggers:

  • Check weather reports so you know when pollen counts are high.
  • Keep windows and doors closed at home and in vehicles during allergy season.
  • Know which time of day pollens are most “active.” In the warmer months, tree and grass pollen levels are highest in the evening, while ragweed pollen levels in the late summer/early fall are highest in the morning.
  • Shower, wash hair and change clothes after playing, exercising or working outdoors.
  • Wear a filter mask when mowing or doing other outdoor chores and take medication before you begin.

While research will continue to look into the performance of generic versus brand-name medications, the bulk of research out there shows that taking the no-name brand not only saves you money but also provides you with a medication that is just as effective as the original.

Are allergies getting you down? Finding a physician who can partner with you for your health is essential. We can help find a physician that’s appropriate and convenient for you. Call 1-877-THR-WELL (847-9355) or visit TexasHealth.org/FindaProvider today.

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