Big high street pharmacy chains including Boots and Superdrug have run out of some hay fever medicines, with the manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, blaming temporary supply issues.
Piriton and Piriteze tablets, made by GSK, are out of stock at Boots and other chains because there is an industry-wide shortage of the active ingredient, chlorphenamine maleate, which is also used to treat eczema and food allergies.
The products are expected to be back on shelves within the next few weeks, according to the industry.
GSK said its Piriteze allergy syrup, which is given to children, was not affected by the problems.
A GSK spokesperson said: “Due to the reduced availability of certain active ingredients across the industry, we can confirm GSK consumer healthcare is experiencing temporary supply shortages of Piriton and Piriteze tablets. We appreciate that the demand for these medicines will be high over the coming months and are working hard to improve availability as soon as possible.”
Hay fever is caused by tree, grass and other pollen, and levels are expected to be high in coming days, according to the Met Office.
Boots said only four of its 90 hay fever relief products were affected by the shortages – Piriton tablets and its own-brand version, both sold in different pack sizes. These antihistamines cause drowsiness, so many people prefer other medicines.
A Boots spokesperson said: “At Boots we have a large range of hay fever relief medicines, with good availability of stock overall in our stores and online. There are a very small number of lines that are currently out of stock due to a current, industry-wide shortage of the active ingredient.
“However, we are expecting this to be resolved soon and new deliveries are expected in the coming weeks.”
Superdrug said it was experiencing shortages of two products, Piriton 30s and 60s tablets packs, but it had many alternatives such as its own-brand allergy ranges with the active ingredients loratadine or cetirizine, and another medicine, Allevia.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society said there was no reason to be alarmed at the shortages, as there was plentiful supply of other hay fever medicines.
Its president, Claire Anderson, said: “Chlorphenamine maleate is just one component of a few hay fever tablets, including Piriton, which is not a first line choice for treating hay fever for adults as it is more likely to make patients drowsy. Other medication using cetirizine hydrochloride or loratadine is still available widely in pharmacies across the country, and fexofenadine is also now available on general sale at pharmacies this year for the first time, so patients actually have more options than ever to treat their hay fever symptoms. ”
She said medicines shortages were not a new problem, and were something pharmacists had to manage and deal with on a daily basis. There can be a multitude of reasons, including manufacturing issues, global demand or disruption with the supply chain. “Availability of certain medicines fluctuates, and it is important to ask your pharmacist for alternatives,” she said.
“GPs, pharmacists and patient groups have called for pharmacists to be able to make minor changes to a prescription when something is out of stock – this should be considered as part of a package of measures to address future medicines supplies.”
A spokesperson for the society said the situation was different from the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) crisis, which began a couple of years ago and was caused by longer-term issues, rather than temporary supply fluctuations. Unlike hay fever medicines, there are far fewer HRT products on the market.
Last week, the UK health secretary promised to deploy more members of the vaccine taskforce to a new group set up to fix the acute shortage of HRT products for menopausal women, after holding crisis talks with HRT manufacturers and pharmacies. The new HRT team is headed by Madelaine McTernan, who also runs the vaccine taskforce.
The months of supply shortages mean many menopausal women are struggling to sleep or work effectively because they are unable to obtain their prescriptions.