Ah-choooose Claritin

I think Benadryl was one of my very first words.

As a lifelong allergy sufferer, I remember my childhood through the clouded tissues of dehumidifiers, vaporubs and just about every OTC decongestant known to man. As a small child, I could delineate the purpose of an antihistamine. By the age of six, I could spell pseudoephedrine. And throughout this entire process, my family strung together the latest wonderdrugs like a chain of hope: Benadryl, Tavist-D, Sudafed, Publix-brand Sudafed, Tylenol Allergy Sinus, Allegra, Afrin, Astelin, Flonase.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of each medicine seemed to evaporate as quickly as my Vick’s. Facing a terrible let-down, we would cling to the latest and greatest new product. A store brand with bright red capsules? We’ll take two boxes. A commercial for Nasonex? We’ll try it, cheesy bee graphics and all. Each television ad and brightly packaged tonic buoyed our hope.

It’s a brilliant tactic, the advertising of hope. Drug marketers never focus on the bottom line of “less snot.” They sell lifestyles–alluring days of dancing in the sun with kittens and flowers! After glimpsing that paradise, even healthy viewers want to bring Zyrtec into their lives for a mere $50 per bottle. And sometimes, people who are afflicted with an ongoing problem need the psychological benefits of trying a new approach. Advertising promises that a product will improve your life, and when you’re dealing with cutting-edge drugs, maybe they can actually deliver.

And maybe they can’t. The downside of these optimistic messages is, of course, false hope. Even though the side effects are announced faster than an 80’s era Micromachines commercial, we choose to believe the authoritative actors in white lab coats. It’s only natural to trust the illusion of authority while trying to better our own station in life.

For me, the continuous cycle of wonderdrugs played a part in preventing me from seeking real treatment. I knew immunotherapy in the form of weekly allergy shots would probably help. But as long as there was a new brand of decongestant to try, my parents and I could justify following that path instead of the one lined with needles. After enduring months upon months of red welts on my arms, I’m starting to think I might see a difference!

Meanwhile, I do still take the Claritin. Claritin-D, in fact (Bart Simpson once declined to swap Focusyn for a non-D-carrying Clartin; check out “Brother’s Little Helper” episode notes at www.snpp.com/episodes/AABF22t). I buy the Clartin-D name brand because I hope the thick, sturdy box and hefty round pills mean it’s working. Yes, I should know better. But these shots make me want to eat my shorts, man!

Check out what Ashton at Air America thinks about the commercials (note: it’s a leftist radio station, so there are no major surprises) at www.airamerica.com/springer/blog/508826. For a med student perspective on drug marketing, visit www.studentbmj.com/issues/0105/letters/39b.html. Or tell me what you think by adding a comment! Now, pardon me — I feel a sneeze coming on!

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