Claritin Vs. Generic: Which Is Better? Here's What We Know

When it comes to our health, we want to be sure we're getting the best quality products available. This is particularly true when it comes to our medications — and not just prescription drugs. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines make the process of self-treating different health issues simpler and more accessible to the public. Aches and pains, gastrointestinal problems, skin inflammation, sleep difficulties, and a seasonal cold are just a few of the many ailments most commonly self-treated with OTC medications, reports the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA). Also included in this list are allergies. In 2022, survey data showed that over 66% of people used OTC meds for treating their allergies.

If you know the misery of allergies, you're probably well acquainted with Claritin. This brand-name, over-the-counter antihistamine fights against itching, sneezing, and sniffling by blocking the release of histamine in the body (per In 2016, Claritin ranked third out of ten different OTC allergy-treatment brands for generating the greatest amount of revenue in the U.S., proving it to be a popular pick among allergy sufferers (per Statista). 

Seated on drug-store shelves right next to most brand-name medications is the generic version of the drug and Claritin is no exception. While the packaging may be a little less colorful, is Claritin generic just as effective as its brand-name sibling?

Similarities and differences between Claritin and generic

Just like the brand-name Claritin, Claritin generic is also made with the allergy-fighting chemical loratadine (per Cabinet Health). When it comes to quality, shelf-life, efficacy, and safety, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) explains that generic drugs and brand-name drugs both meet the same criteria. The same is true for dosage amounts and strength of the medication. In other words, no one version is superior to the other. However, this does mean that both medications also come with the same side effects.

So are there any differences between the manufacturing of the two medications at all? Technically, yes. However, the difference is so small that it is not deemed medically significant. The FDA keeps a close eye on permitted levels of variance and any differences in strength, purity, or size are no different than what you would expect to see between two different batches of the exact same medication. Additionally, while the core elements of brand-name and generic drugs are the same, each is allowed to have its own distinct colors or flavors.

Of course, the most stark difference between the two is the price tag. This is because extensive clinical trials have already been conducted by brand-name drug manufacturers. Because the generic version of a brand-name drug follows the same formula, they are not required by the FDA to replicate these studies. Without this expense, generic drug manufacturers can afford to price their products as much as 85% lower than the brand-name version.

Many doctors shop generic, too

Whether you opt for brand-name Claritin or the Claritin generic, both will be equally effective in stopping allergy symptoms in their tracks. While consumers tend to assume that generic drugs may in some way be subpar compared to brand-name drugs, research has shown that many doctors regularly shop for generic themselves. In fact, loratadine was found to be among the top OTC medications that physicians choose to purchase generic rather than brand-name, according to 2015 survey research conducted by Brown University and University of Chicago economists. In terms of weighing which one is better, per se, the determining factor may simply come down to how much you'd prefer to pay.

OTC medicines aren't the only medications that have an effective generic counterpart; many prescription drugs do as well. However, experts at Cedars Sinai note that there are specific instances in which a patient should be prescribed a brand-name drug over a generic version, such as with certain anti-seizure medications. These medications are known as narrow therapeutic index (NTI) drugs. The FDA reports that NTI drugs are medications in which even minor variations in dose can be fatal or result in serious health outcomes.