Benadryl is pictured at a home in North Vancouver, B.C., Monday, November, 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Moving Benadryl behind the counter doesn’t resolve safety concerns: pharmacists

More doctors are warning against older antihistamines, such as the active ingredient in Benadryl

Sally McQuinn once kept her medicine cabinet stocked with Benadryl, the go-to medication to treat her daughter’s multiple allergies: the Ottawa mother of three assumed that because it was sold on pharmacy shelves and didn’t require a prescription, it was safe.

But she was surprised by recent headlines highlighting that a growing number of doctors are warning against the use of older antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl, because of safety and efficacy concerns.

McQuinn says she will no longer buy Benadryl and instead choose from the number of existing alternatives.

“Nobody wants to choose the one that’s going to have more negative consequences,” she explains.

The Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology released a statement in October recommending curbing the use of older first-generation antihistamines in both adults and children. They said newer antihistamines, including Reactine, Aerius, and Claritin, are safer.

Long-known side effects from standard doses of Benadryl include sedation, cognitive impairment, and possible heart rhythm abnormalities.

Children are particularly at risk of severe consequences, such as seizures and coma, from too high a dose, and research suggests teens using Benadryl for allergies have lower scores on exams than their peers.

The CSACI statement called on regulators to consider moving Benadryl and other first-generation antihistamines from pharmacy shelves to behind the counter in order to force an interaction with pharmacists who can explain the issues and suggest alternatives.

Pharmacists, however, say the solution isn’t so simple: putting Benadryl behind the counter, they say, is not practical and won’t resolve the safety concerns. And they have the same concerns about many other over-the-counter drugs.

READ MORE: Canadian allergists’ group wants Benadryl behind the counter due to side effects

Consumers would have to speak to a pharmacist, who could decline to provide the medication. But since the drug is approved by Health Canada and is well known, many consumers, will continue to push for it, says pharmacist Barry Power, a spokesman for the Canadian Pharmacists Association.

That can create conflict at the drugstore, he adds.

“For many people, the side effect profile isn’t a big concern. But if Benadryl were to come on the market today, it might require a prescription, because of the safety profile,” he says.

Benadryl’s maker, Johnson & Johnson says the products are approved by Health Canada and “when used as directed, are safe and effective.”

In a statement, Health Canada said products containing diphenhydramine meet the requirements and regulations of the Food and Drugs Act. It says it is assessing the allergists’ recent statement “to determine if further risk mitigation measures for diphenhydramine-containing products are required.”

The agency says that it continues to monitor scientific and medical information as it evolves and would take action if this information required a change to “the regulatory status of products containing diphenhydramine.”

Currently, Benadryl is approved for sale without a prescription in locations where a pharmacist is present. This means that it can be sold in pharmacies and certain grocery stores, but not in convenience stores or gas stations.

Nardine Nakhla, a pharmacist who teaches at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, says moving all the diphenhydramine-containing drugs behind the counter is “unrealistic … due to the sheer number of products that contain these problematic ingredients.”

Nakhla says there are also many other drugs, besides diphenhydramine, that have similar risk profiles and are available on pharmacy shelves.

Power agrees that the issue of which drugs belong behind the counter “becomes a bigger question as you start looking (at it).”

– Dr. Michelle Ward is a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and associate professor at the University of Ottawa

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Slideshow: Hope’s winter weather in photos

Readers submit photos of Hope under a blanket of snow

Borrow $8 billion for Fraser Valley rail link, Abbotsford mayor urges province

Henry Braun urges province to borrow billions to connect Abbotsford & Chilliwack to Metro Vancouver

Vandals destroy sign at Hope Legion

Sign found to have fire damage and missing letters Tuesday morning

Upper Fraser RCMP joins Twitter

Twitter feed once limited to Chilliwack expands

Three concerts in two weeks at Bozzini’s Upstairs Lounge in Chilliwack

Jon Brooks and Lynne Hanson are up first, followed by WiL and then Dan Bern for February concerts

Victoria police arrest 12 anti-pipeline protesters supporting Wet’suwet’en

‘We are unarmed, they have guns,’ protesters chanted on Wednesday morning

Canadian public health agencies ramping up preparations in response to new virus

Health officials have said there are no confirmed cases of the emerging coronavirus in Canada

‘Naughty boy’: Monty Python star Terry Jones dies at 77

The comedian has been suffering from a rare form of dementia

Four things ‘not’ to do if you run into Prince Harry and Meghan in B.C.

Here is a list of some things you definitely should NOT do, according to the BBC

Harry and Meghan should cover their own security costs: NDP heritage critic

The prince, Meghan Markle and their eight-month-old son Archie are reportedly staying at a mansion near Victoria

Theo the 800-pound pig trimmed down and still looking for love on Vancouver Island

“He’s doing really well, lost quite a few pounds and can run now.”

Pooches Jasper and Jake bring comfort to Abbotsford Police Department

Comfort dogs there for cuddles and play time when needed

One dead following pedestrian collision in South Surrey’s Campbell Heights

Incident occurred just after 7 a.m. on 24 Avenue near 188 Street

Horgan unveils B.C. cabinet shuffle changes

Premier John Horgan has made three major changes to his cabinet

Most Read