Pharmacists' Picks: Top Recommended Health Products

US News

Claritin or Zyrtec? Tylenol or Aleve? 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 drugstore aisles, too. For 17 years, the industry trade publication Pharmacy Times has surveyed 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 and 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.

U.S. News displays all brands that received at least 1 percent of pharmacists' votes, but only products 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. Because U.S. News rounded each percentage to the nearest whole number, there's at least one category (Canker sore treatments) in which two have the same percentage displayed, but only one tied for the number one spot. How can that be? When these two products' percentages are expanded past the decimal, we see that they actually differ by about a half percentage point - enough to land one product within five percentage points of the product with the most votes and the other one out of luck.

So you don't have to decipher decimal places and millionths and trillionths, U.S. News displays each percentage rounded to the whole number, and consequently, the sum of all product percentages in certain categories is sometimes 99 or 101 percent. Pharmacy Times handled rounding a little differently, and so some products differ by a percentage point between our website and the 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.

All 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:

-- Cough, Cold and Allergy

-- Diabetes Health

-- Diagnostics

-- Eyes, Ears, Nose and Throat

-- First Aid

-- Oral Care

-- Pain and Inflammation

-- Pediatrics

-- Stomach and GI

-- Topicals

-- Vitamins and Supplements

-- Women's Health

-- More Health Products

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 quarter of pharmacists surveyed by Pharmacy Times preferred Neutrogena (23 percent) to Proactiv (13 percent), the darling of daytime TV ads and celebrity endorsers. Among cough lozenges (in Cough, Cold and Allergy), Cepacol is the go-to, not Halls, Ricola, Sucrets or any others. And Claritin edges Zyrtec in the Oral Antihistamines category, Tylenol and Excedrin beat Aleve for headache relief and Band-Aid wins among adhesive bandages 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 when considering different brands. When in doubt about how well a product will handle the job, step up to the counter and ask.

Updated on 06/18/2013: This article was originally published on June 19, 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most recent survey results by Pharmacy Times.

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