How many of you have been in the supermarket or your local pharmacy and reached for the most well known, branded medication to treat your symptoms when you’re feeling under the weather? Probably most of us.
But have you ever stopped to consider cheaper medicine alternatives? When it comes to health products and medicines there is a tendency to go with what we know works. We are dealing with drugs after all and want to go with the highest quality product that we trust will get the job done – but do you actually get a more effective product if you pay more?
Branding plays as big a role in the drugs market as any other. Often you’ll be paying more simply for the name. We’ve put together the following list of well-known, over the counter brands, commonly used to treat minor ailments and explore whether the cheaper alternatives provide the same standard of treatment.
The main active ingredient in Nurofen is ibuprofen. A box of 16 Nurofen tablets containing 200mg of ibuprofen currently retails around £2.10 for a pack of 16 tablets, while a pack of the same size, supermarket branded “ibuprofen” costs a mere 32p. In reality, there is little difference between the two products. It only takes about 15 minutes for the body to absorb ibuprofen, so branded products which claim to act much quicker, in reality will only provide a very marginal difference.
Calpol is for the treatment of babies and children whenever they have pain or fever. The main active ingredient is paracetamol and a 100ml bottle currently costs around £3. A generic brand can cost half the price and will treat the symptoms just as well. Calpol now has a number of different types, varieties and flavours available that can often make the consumer think Calpol also has much more to offer in terms of treatment, but the only real difference is in the marketing.
At this time of year, cold and flu relief remedies are in high demand. Lemsip offers relief from a number of symptoms including sore throats, aches and pains, blocked noses, high temperatures and chesty coughs meaning it needs to contain a number of key components to be effective. These include phenylephrine; a nasal decongestant and paracetemol to provide pain relief. Many supermarkets now offer their own brand of cold and flu relief which contains all the above, but retails at more than £1 cheaper. A packet of Lemsip cold and flu containing 10 sachets retails at £3.29. whereas the supermarket equivalent will cost £2.20.
Gaviscon is for the treatment of heartburn and indigestion and comes in various forms including liquid, pill and sachet. Unlike the other brands we’ve explored so far, Gaviscon does actually contain an ingredient which isn’t present in the cheaper alternatives. “Alginate” which is extracted from brown seaweed is an alkaline substance that works by neutralising excess acid in the stomach. However, there are still cheaper alternatives available including Peptac which contains sodium alginate, sodium bicarbonate and calcium carbonate which also combats heartburn and indigestion very effectively. Gaviscon costs £8.99 for 600ml while Peptac is available at just £2.99 for a 500ml bottle.
Hayfever and allergy relief is for a smaller number of people, but as allergies are becoming increasingly common, the demand for fast and effective relief has also increased. Hayfever and allergy relief remedies contain cetirizine as their active ingredient and like the other remedies we have explored so far, also vary in price depending on what brand you go for. A 12 pack of Piriteze tablets cost £4.99, whereas a 14 pack of supermarket hayfever and allergy relief containing cetirizine costs £1.80. There are a number of different types of hayfever and allergy relief remedies containing other active ingredients. This is just one example and the type you need will be dependent on your type of allergy, so the advice is to talk to your pharmacist about what type of relief you need and then shop around.
If you are in any doubt about how to treat any of the ailments mentioned above or would like help and advice about other minor ailments, your local pharmacy is able to advise on most situations. If they aren’t able to provide anything over the counter right away, they will be able to advise on whether you need to make an appointment with your local GP. NHS Choices is able to provide information on where you can find your nearest pharmacy.