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Rx switches lead allergy sufferers to OTCs

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CHPA-Nielsen study finds that 60% of adult allergy sufferers use OTCs only

WASHINGTON — More allergy sufferers are opting for over-the-counter medicines to alleviate their symptoms as more prescription products switch to OTC status, according to new research Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) and Nielsen.

Flonase OTC shelf shot_Rite AidCHPA said Thursday the study found that 60% adult allergy sufferers use only OTCs for treatment, up from just more than half in 2009. The number of allergy sufferers taking both a prescription and an OTC medication has remained nearly flat, ranging from 13% to 15% over the five-year period analyzed.

Overall, more than 90% of people with allergies take medication to ease their symptoms. But the study revealed a clear shift toward OTC allergy medicines by consumers as nonprescription options have become available, CHPA noted. In 2015, 75% of allegy sufferers purchased OTC medication on its own or with a prescription product, compared with 66% in 2009.

Meanwhile, as the percentage of OTC users has risen, the share of allergy sufferers using a prescription treatment over that time span fell to 17% from 24%. The number of people with allergies who did nothing to treat their symptoms stayed relatively steady at 6% to 8% during that period.

“Less than 20 years ago, nearly all allergy treatment options were prescription. But now the script is flipped, and most of the options are OTC,” stated CHPA president and chief executive officer Scott Melville. “Access and affordability has increased significantly now that more allergy medicines have switched from prescription to OTC.”

The findings are part of a multiyear study on patient behavior, preferences, treatment dynamics, and costs, which are published in the new report, “Assessing Consumer Benefits of Allergy Rx-to-OTC Switches,” available online here.

For the report, titled “Assessing Consumer Benefits of Allergy Rx-to-OTC Switches,” Nielsen surveyed 2,000 adult allergy sufferers about their treatment routine and satisfaction with medication options. The goal was to identify how treatment of allergy sufferers has changed as more options have become available with Rx-to-OTC switches, including how consumers have benefited in terms of cost and quality of life, and how health insurer costs have changed as more OTCs have hit the market.

Spending on OTCs by allergy sufferers fluctuated over the 2009-2015 study period. The average allergy sufferer household spent about $33 on allergy OTC medicine in 2009 and made an average of 2.9 trips to retail stores. In 2013, OTC spending rose to $44, and trips per household for allergy products also increased. Last year, spending on allergy OTCs declined slightly per household, while trips were consistent with 2015.

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In tandem with the shift to OTC allergy medicines and continued high satisfaction with those products, the
number of allergy medication prescriptions written by health care professionals has declined. The study found that health providers wrote about 31% fewer allergy prescriptions in 2015 versus in 2010.

“Chronic diseases like allergies can be a burden on health, finances and time,” according to Andrew Mandzy, director of the health and wellness growth and strategy team at Nielsen. “Now people have more options than ever for self-care, like leveraging online sources to find health-related information or by using OTC medicines as a first line of defense.”

Another result of more OTC options for allergy sufferers has been fewer visits to health care providers for allergy-related symptoms, the study found. In 2015, 38% of allergy sufferers visited a health provider for their symptoms,  down from 31% in 2009. This indicates that OTC allergy options are satisfying allergy patients’ treatment needs, the researchers noted.

Health care providers, however, still carry a lot of influence with allergy patients. When allergy sufferers surveyed were asked how they select an OTC allergy product, nearly half cited a health provider’s recommendation as an influence. Another 23% said a pharmacist recommendation influenced their product decision.

“It’s gratifying to know that patients still look at health care providers as an important part of their allergy management,” commented Cary Sennett, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). “Even though most allergy medicines are conveniently available over the counter today, doctors still play a vital role in allergy diagnosis and management, especially for those who have a more severe form of the disease and for those who also have allergic asthma.”

In 2015, 27.8% of Americans suffered from allergies, including 69 million adults and 89 million people overall, the report said.

Since 2009, allergy medications approved for OTC use have included Allegra (oral) and Allegra D (12- and 24-hour, oral), Nasacort Allergy 24HR (spray), Flonase Allergy Relief (spray), Rhinocort Allergy Spray, Flonase Sensimist Allergy Relief (spray) and Xyzal Allergy 24HR (oral), according to CHPA.


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