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

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

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta now has 17,743 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Community Christmas Eve Dinner cancelled

The 20th anniversary of the Community Christmas Eve dinner is cancelled amidst COVID-19 concerns

The consensus around the Sylvan Lake council chamber Wednesday was the town does not have the ability to properly enforce a proposed mandatory indoor mask bylaw. File Photo
Sylvan Lake town council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

Sylvan Lake RCMP are looking for the identity of the suspect who stole from over 40 resident mail boxes. (Photo Courtesy of Sylvan Lake RCMP)
Over 40 mailboxes broken into at Sylvan Lake apartment building

Sylvan Lake RCMP are investigating the incident and searching for the identity of the suspect

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Team Manitoba celebrate after defeating Team Ontario to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Curling Canada wants Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park to be a curling hub for the season’s top events. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

Curling Canada has provisional approval for Calgary’s hub-city concept from Alberta Health

Ash and Lisa Van carry a freshly cut Christmas tree while wearing personal protective masks at a Christmas Tree Farm in Egbert, Ontario, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston
‘Everyone wants a tree and they want it now’: Christmas tree sales on pace for record

Anticipated demand for Christmas trees has sparked a rush by some to purchase more trees wholesale

Most Read