Supplies of hay fever medicine are running out due to a shortage of a common allergy drug, as Met Office forecasters warn of high levels of pollen over the next few days.
Supplies of chlorphenamine maleate, the active ingredient in Piriton and other hay fever remedies, are running out in the industry, according to Boots.
All Piriton tablets for adults are out of stock online at Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy and Coop Pharmacy, although Piriton syrups for children are still available.
The shortage coincides with high pollen forecasts for most of England and Wales for the next few days, according to the Met Office.
Mid-May can be the worst time for many hay fever sufferers because that’s when the two main types of pollen – from trees and grasses – are released at the same time.
Tree pollen, to which one in four people with hay fever is allergic, is usually released from late March to mid-May, while grass pollen season, to which more people are allergic, often begins in mid-May and lasts until July.
The shortage of allergy medications appears to be limited to formulations containing chlorphenamine maleate, with other antihistamines in greater supply. There generally seems to be a good supply of medications using cetirizine hydrochloride, including Piriteze, Benadryl, Allacan, and generic brands.
Both chlorphenamine and cetirizine are effective medications for treating hay fever. However, the NHS says some people will find one drug works better for them.
The missing drug, chlorphenamine, can make users sleepy, which is good for those for whom hay fever means they have trouble sleeping.
Cetirizine is less likely to make users drowsy, according to the NHS.
Larger drug shortages
The news comes amid a wider problem of drug shortages in the UK. Two-thirds of pharmacists say they face supply problems on a daily basis, according to a study by the Pharmaceutical Services Bargaining Committee released last month.
The committee also noted that three-quarters of pharmacists had to deal with aggressive patients, who were told they could not be given the drugs they had been prescribed.
Particular problems have been observed in the supply of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), with limits placed on certain drugs to manage stocks. The government said demand for HRT had increased “significantly” in recent times, with a 38% increase in the number of items prescribed over the past seven years.
Issues with global supply chains and Brexit have also put pressure on available quantities of other medicines in recent years.
Hay fever medication issues will be ‘resolved soon’
Hay fever could get worse in the next few years as climate change lengthens the pollen season. Over the past three decades, the hay fever season has increased by 20 days in North America, according to figures released last year.
A warming climate also has the potential to bring different plants to the UK which would produce more pollen, according to the Met Office. The organization notes that a single ragweed plant, an invasive species, can produce a billion allergy-intensive pollen grains each season.
Daily changes in the weather can also affect the severity of hay fever symptoms, which include itchy eyes, a runny nose, and a tickling sensation in your throat.
Windy days tend to induce more severe symptoms as more pollen is blown by the plants and released into the air. On the other hand, rainy days can wash away pollen and make hay fever milder.
A Boots spokesperson said: “There are a very small number of lines that are currently out of stock due to an ongoing industry-wide shortage of the active ingredient chlorphenamine maleate.
“However, we expect this to be resolved soon and further deliveries are expected in the coming weeks.”
Met Office meteorologist Sarah Kent said: ‘Pollen levels will be high across much of the UK on Monday and Tuesday. At the moment it is mainly tree pollen, [but] weed season is just beginning.
“You may start noticing the symptoms more if you are sensitive to grass pollen.”