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

This concept artwork from July 2020 shows the inland port planned for the former Skeena Cellulose mill site in Terrace. (Image courtesy Hatha Callis, Progressive Ventures Group)
Terrace city council approves inland port OCP amendments

Project still requires zoning bylaw, development permit to continue

This copper frog pendant was made by Jamika Aksidan, a young Nisga’a artist who was recently recognized with an award for her work. (Photo courtesy Nisga’a Museum)
Nisga’a youth artist wins award

Award includes $500, exhibition in Nisga’a Museum

A BC Hydro outage is affecting nearly 4000 customers in Kitimat. The cause of the outage is under investigation. (Screenshot/BC Hydro Outage Map)
Cable fault responsible for Kitimat power outage, BC Hydro says

At its peak, the BC Hydro power outage affected near 4,000 customers

Graph showing the 2020 passenger totals at the Northwest Regional Airport in Terrace. (Submitted/Northwest Regional Airport)
New year brings an end to a turbulent 2020 at Northwest Regional Airport

Passenger totals half of what they were in 2019

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Most Read