When you’ve got a drippy nose or monster headache, chances are you head to your local pharmacy in search of relief. Endless over-the-counter treatment options await, sardine-packed on store shelves. For many of us, the which-product-should-I-buy decision is hardly more complex than a game of eeny, meeny, miney, mo e. 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 people , it’s a decision you make alone. But you don’t have to.
Enter 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. 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 the products lining drugstore aisles, too. For 20 years, the industry trade publication Pharmacy Times has surveyed thousands of pharmacists nationwide to pinpoint their recommendations on a range of over-the-counter products. The results, published annually in its OTC Guide, are then widely circulated to pharmacists throughout the country to help them guide consumers’ shopping decisions.
And now you have the pharmacists’ intel, too.
U.S. News, in collaboration with Pharmacy Times, presents Drugs & Treatments, a product aimed at getting those pharmacists’ recommendations into your hands. Previously known as Top Recommended Health Products, Drugs & Treatments is 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 combed through pharmacists’ survey responses to show how different brands stack up in more than 130 over-the-counter product categories, from cough suppressants and headache relief, to sleep aids and antacids.
All this information is easily found on U.S News Health’s website in the section labeled “Over-the-Counter Drug & Device Ranking s, ” under Drugs & Treatments. Here are the standout winners in 13 product groups defined by Pharmacy Times:
Cough, Cold and Allergy
— Cold Remedies: Cepacol.
— Oral Antihistamines: Claritin.
— Oral Decongestants: Sudafed (pseudoephedrine).
— Diabetic Foot Cream: Eucerin.
— Diabetic Neuropathy Products: Aspercreme with Lidocaine.
— Diabetic Multivitamins: Nature Made.
— Blood Pressure Monitors: Omron.
— Blood Sampling Devices/Lancets: OneTouch.
— Digital Thermometers: Braun ThermoScan.
Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat
— Contact Lens Saline Solutions: OPTI-FREE Puremoist.
— Saline Nasal Moisturizers: Simply Saline.
— Sore Throat Products: Cepacol.
— Bandages, Covers and Gauze: Band-Aid.
— Burn Treatments: NEOSPORIN.
— Topical Antibiotics and Antiseptics: NEOSPORIN.
— Cold Sore Treatments: Abreva.
— Therapeutic Mouthwashes/Oral Rinses: Listerine.
— Toothpaste (General Use): Crest.
Pain and Inflammation
— Headache Products: Tylenol.
— Migraine Headache Products: Excedrin Migraine.
— Children’s Allergy: Children’s Claritin.
— Children’s Cough and Cold Combinations: Children’s Dimetapp.
— Children’s Sore Throat Products: Zarbee’s Naturals.
Stomach and GI
— Antacids: Tums.
— Nausea Remedies: Dramamine-N.
— Upset Stomach Remedies: Pepto-Bismol.
— Acne Products: Differin Gel.
— Lip Balms: Carmex.
— Sunscreen: Neutrogena.
Vitamins and Supplements
— Multivitamins: Centrum.
— Nutritional Supplements: Ensure.
— Prenatal Vitamins: One A Day Prenatal.
— Menopause and Women’s Health Supplements: Estroven.
— Menstrual Pain Relief: Midol.
— Urinary Pain Relief: AZO.
More Health Products
— Aspirin for Heart Health: Bayer.
— Sleep Aids: Nature Made Melatonin.
— Smoking Cessation Aids: NicoDerm CQ Patch.
The full list of categories can be found here. Click around to read the survey results. Some findings might surprise you. For example, when it comes to the numerous sunscreen brands on the market, 35% of the pharmacists surveyed preferred Neutrogena to Coppertone (18%) and other brands. Among oral antihistamines, Claritin is the go-to, ahead of Zyrtec, Allegra Allergy or any others. DayQuil wins in the daytime cough, cold and flu combinations, Monistat beats Florajen and Vagisil for yeast infection prevention and relief, and Afrin wins among nasal spray decongestants by a mile.
U.S. News displays all brands that received at least 1% of pharmacists’ votes, but only products that garnered the most votes within a given category earned the “No. 1 Pharmacist Recommended” designation. In a few cases, this results in a tie.
Note that you’ll see the percentages rounded to whole numbers. Consequently, the sum of all product percentages in certain categories is sometimes 99 % or 101%. Pharmacy Times handled rounding a little differently, and so some products differ by a percentage point between the U.S. News’ website and Pharmacy Times’ OTC Guide.
For both resources, it’s important to note these pharmacist recommendations are based solely on brand-name products in cases where generics may be present.
The U.S. News Health team hope s Drugs & Treatments will help make your next trip to the drugstore a little less mind-boggling. While you should always check package labels for ingredients, directions and warnings, this information is another resource when considering different brands.
When in doubt about how well a product will handle the job, step up to the counter and ask.
More from U.S. News
Which Medicines Do Pharmacists Recommend the Most Often? originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 06/08/21: This article has been updated to reflect the most recent survey results.