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Claritin Catch-22

Claritin, Allergy, Allergic, Sneezing, Polen
CBS/AP
The flowers are in full bloom and the pollen is leaving its dusty calling card as far as the itchy eyes can see. But as CBS News' Elizabeth Kaledin reports, it's shaping up to be anything but your typical sneezing season.

For the first time, the popular drug Claritin is being sold over the counter, and it's having a wide ranging ripple effect.

At about $2 a pill, patients are complaining to doctors like Alan Goodman that they need something covered in their insurance or something they can afford.

At the same time, it's making other prescription allergy drugs harder to get.

Just ask Dawn Dahmer — 3 out of 4 of her kids are miserable all spring.

"Marky's eyes swell shut, literally swell shut; Jessica can't breathe; Stephanie sneezes constantly," Dahmer says of her children.

Claritin doesn't work for them, so Dahmer must pay a higher co-pay for medications like Zyrtec and Allegra, which insurers are now calling non-preferred drugs.

The move to sell Claritin over the counter is just be the beginning of having patients manage their own allergies without a trip to the doctor's office. But many are wondering who benefits from the trend, both medically and financially.

The FDA, led by Commissioner Mark Mclellan, is considering an unprecedented move to force the makers of allergy drugs Zyrtec and Allegra to go over the counter as well.

No decision has been made yet, but Mclellan believes that in the long run, over the counter means price eventually goes down while access goes up.

"We see a lot more use of treatments after they go over the counter, and that's something we do think about in terms of our public health mission," said Mclellan.

And as for safety, industry experts believe allergy drugs are the perfect test case.

It's the consumers who remain unconvinced.

They may crave allergy relief, but not at their own expense.