Claritin or Zyrtec? Tylenol or Excedrin? Carmex or ChapStick?
When you've got a drippy nose, monster headache, or simply chapped lips, chances are you head to your local pharmacy in search of relief, where endless over-the-counter treatment options await, sardine-packed on store shelves. For many of us, the which-product-should-I-buy decision is little more complex than a game of eeny, meeny, miney, mo. For some, it comes down to price. For others, it's brand loyalty (Mom always went with...). For others yet, it's whichever medication has the most convincing TV commercial. For most of us, it's a decision we make alone. But we don't have to.
Enter the pharmacists—those white-coated, behind-the-counter individuals who, as defined by the U.S. Department of Labor, "dispense prescription medications to patients and offer advice on their safe use." Indeed, pharmacists must understand the complex composition of medicines, as well as the laws that regulate their manufacture and sale, and they instruct patients on how and when to take a prescribed medicine, advise on potential side effects, and stay alert for the possibility of risky drug interactions.
But they have a lot to say about all the products lining drug store aisles, too. For 16 years, the industry trade publication Pharmacy Times has surveyed tens of thousands of pharmacists nationwide to pinpoint the top pharmacist-recommended over-the-counter products within a range of categories. The results, published annually in its OTC Guide, are then widely circulated to pharmacists throughout the country to help them guide consumers' shopping decisions. But consumers themselves have not previously had access to this stockpile of data, insight on which brand-name products are standouts in the eyes of most pharmacists; the products they recommend most often to their patients, their friends, and their family members. Until now.
U.S. News Health, in collaboration with Pharmacy Times, presents Top Recommended Health Products, a project aimed at getting that information into your hands. We see Top Recommended Health Products as a natural extension of our continuous commitment to helping Americans make important health decisions, whether it's choosing a hospital, doctor, diet, or medication. U.S. News and Pharmacy Times have culled through pharmacists' survey responses to show how different brands stack up in 148 over-the-counter product categories, from cough suppressants and headache relief to sleep aids and antacids. While U.S. News displays all brands that received at least 1 percent of pharmacists' votes, only those that garnered the most votes within a given category earned the "No. 1 Pharmacist Recommended" designation. In some cases, two or more products tied for that distinction, arising when their vote tallies came within 5 percentage points of the product with the most votes. It's important to note these pharmacist recommendations are based solely on brand-name products in cases where generics may be present.
All of this information is easily navigable on our website. The first step to accessing the recommendations is to select from among the following broad product groups. There are 13:
Click around to find precisely what you're looking for. Some of the findings might surprise you. For example, when it comes to acne products, housed in Topicals, nearly a third of pharmacists surveyed by Pharmacy Times preferred Neutrogena (31 percent) to Proactiv (9 percent), the darling of daytime TV ads and celebrity endorsers. Neutrogena—not Proactiv, Clearasil, Oxy, or Clean & Clear—is the No. 1 recommended brand in that category. Among home pregnancy tests (in Diagnostics), First Response is the go-to, not Clearblue Easy or E.P.T. And Claritin edges Zyrtec, Tylenol beats Motrin, and Pepto-Bismol wins by a mile.
We hope Top Recommended Health Products will help make your next trip to the drugstore a little more informed and a little less mind-boggling. While you should always check package labels for ingredients, directions, and warnings, this information is another resource in considering different brands. When in doubt about how well a product will handle the job, step up to the counter and ask.
Updated on 11/5/2012: This article was originally published on June 19, 2012. It has been updated to reflect a major expansion of Top Recommended Health Products.