How to avoid paying eye-watering prices for hayfever meds

With summer approaching, sufferers of hayfever will be dreading not just the sniffles and sneezes, but the wallet-emptying cost of antihistamines.

But research by Consumer has found wide variances in pricing for medications like Razene, Telfast and Claratyne - even within the same pharmacy chain.

The group shopped for seven popular hayfever medications at pharmacies across Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. One of the products - Razene - cost twice as much in some locations than others.

"What we found in Christchurch, downtown you could get a packet of 90 Razine tablets for $37, and across town they were $68," Consumer chief executive Sue Chetwin told The AM Show on Thursday.

"If you were in Wellington, you could get them for $30."

Five of the seven products were cheapest to buy online, including the cost of delivery. Using a site like Pharmacy Direct could save summer sneezers up to $12.

At Unichem pharmacies, the price of a 30-pack of Telfast ranged from $45 to $67, depending on which branch you went to.

"I think they do it because they can," said Ms Chetwin, who said while it might not be "extortion", it is "certainly extracting".

"In a couple of circumstances they said 'we've made a mistake' and reduced the prices - so once they'd been caught out, they did reduce them."

Aside from shopping around or going online, Ms Chetwin says hayfever sufferers should look at generic medicine, and perhaps getting a prescription instead - available for antihistamines like cetirizine and loratadine - if your GP fee is lower than the off-the-shelf price at your local pharmacy.

Product                     Average        Cheapest   Most expensive

Claratyne 30s             $29.91           $23.50         $44.90
Fexaclear 30s             $36.39           $27.99         $39.99
Zyrtec 30s                  $38.92           $31.99         $49.99
Razene 90s                $42.78           $30.00         $66.90
Loraclear 90s             $44.69           $37.80         $49.99
Histaclear 90s            $45.01           $39.90         $48.60
Telfast (180mg) 30s    $51.90           $44.99         $66.99