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Consumer Reports

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    2016 BMW 7 Series is a technological tour de force

    BMW aims to bolstering the 7 Series sedan’s ranking in the ultra-luxury hierarchy by winning the technology race. After teasing a few high-tech features, such as gesture control for the infotainment screen and automatic remote control parking, BMW has finally revealed the production 2016 BMW 7 Series, along with detailing versions and pricing.

    For starters, the new 7 will come in two long-wheelbase iterations: the rear-drive 740i with a 320-hp twin-turbo inline six and all-wheel-drive 750i xDrive with a 445-hp twin-turbo V8. Both powerplants are teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 740i will start at $81,000, and the 750i xDrive will begin at $97,400. Both versions roll out in September as 2016 models.

    A new plug-in hybrid is slated to debut later. Dubbed the 740e, the hybrid boasts a 23-mile electric-only range and will have a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine for longer trips.

    The biggest breakthrough in the new 7 Series is the extensive use of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) in the body shell to reduce weight. BMW says the new 7 is up to 190 pounds lighter than the previous-generation sedan. That weight savings could start to restore some of the responsiveness we appreciated in older 7 Series sedan—and missed in the most recent version.

    A lighter chassis could be expected to improve handling, braking, performance, and fuel economy. Given how dull handling is on the outgoing model, dynamic improvements would be welcome.

    But BMW says it has gone beyond a diet to aid handling precision by adding a new active steering system and active stabilizers in the standard air suspension.

    The real trick here is that "valet parking assist" will also give the 7 Series the ability to drive itself into and out of both parallel and perpendicular parking spaces. Controlled from the car’s optional display key remote, the system can even negotiate spaces so tight that you couldn’t get out of the car if you parked it yourself. The 7 Series will be the second car after the Tesla Model S to get this remote self-parking ability. For the first time, active steering will be available with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system on the 750i. Active cruise control with “stop and go” technology, traffic jam assistant, lane-keeping assistance, and front and rear cross-traffic alert with automatic braking (that works up to 130 mph) brings many technologies related to self-driving cars to the road.

    A more entertaining party trick is the new gesture control ability for the iDrive infotainment and climate control systems. Drivers can wave, swipe, or pinch in the air in front of the screen to choose a function or song, or to adjust the fan speed in the climate control, among other things. In addition to gesture controls, the climate control system uses a touch screen, while iDrive also retains its controller knob.

    With the optional rear seating package, rear passengers can recline up to 42.5 degrees while resting their feet on the electrically powered footrests in their luxurious cocoon. In limo fashion, the passengers will get their own fold-out table and a “flat-plane” tablet that can control the climate, navigation, and phone, or even fold the front passenger’s seat forward for a better view. Or the high-rollers in the back can also use it to stream music or movies, play video games, or surf the Web on their way to board meetings using the car’s built-in Wi-Fi hot spot. The LED Panoramic Sky Lounge Roof tints to reduce sunlight and illuminate in a rainbow of colors to coordinate with the car’s ambient lighting.

    The new optional Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system puts out 1,400 watts through 16 speakers, including Kevlar midrange speakers, a Rohacell central bass subwoofer, and three unique diamond tweeters.

    And if all this doesn’t make an indelible impression on you, LEDs shine the brand logo on the carpets, so you won’t ever forget which car you’re in. Exterior “light carpets” illuminate a swath beside the car like your own red carpet, declaring to others that you have indeed arrived.

    BMW has tough competition in the technology race from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Tesla. Ultimately, the real trick is being on the cutting edge for safety and convenience, while bringing benchmark driving dynamics. The outgoing 7 Series fell short in that regard. We are planning on buying and testing the new 7 to see how it stacks up against its archrival, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

    —Eric Evarts

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Don't repeal country-of-origin labeling on food

    Food labels give you important information about the products you put in your shopping cart and, ultimately, on your table. But one of the labels that lets you know where your groceries come from is under legislative siege.

    When you buy certain meat ​and poultry ​products there’s usually country-of-origin labeling—or COOL—that tells you where the food was ​born, raised, and ​slaughtered​. Those standards, passed by Congress in both 2002 and 2008 and overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, were developed to give you valuable information when you’re shopping. In the event of a food-borne illness outbreak, for example, country-of-origin labeling can help you avoid potential risks or easily identify products that you prefer.

    At Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, we strongly support country-of-origin labeling. You deserve the right to know where the meat you eat was raised. American consumers overwhelmingly support these labels. Our surveys have consistently shown that more than 90 percent of consumers would prefer to have a country-of-origin label on the meat they buy. (Tell us what you think by adding a comment at the bottom of this article.)

    Read about Consumer Reports' work on chicken and shrimp safety, and get more information in our Food Safety & Sustainability Guide.

    But legislation moving right now in Congress would repeal country-of-origin labeling and take away this important consumer resource. ​The bill (H.R. 2393) comes in the wake of a World Trade Organization ruling against the American rules for COOL, saying the labeling ​put Mexican and Canadian meat imports at an unfair disadvantage. But the proposed repeal goes even further than the WTO case, repealing country-of-origin labeling for products that were not even covered by the case, including chicken and ground beef.

    We don’t think that Congress should be intimidated by other countries’ efforts to water down our labeling standards and repeal country-of-origin labeling. This week, Consumers Union sent a letter to the House of Representatives cautioning them from doing away with the labeling standards and, rather, urging the U.S. to negotiate a settlement with Mexico and Canada.

    We were disappointed that the legislation passed the House, but Consumers Union will continue to fight any repeal of these vital labeling laws. The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration. In 2013, Consumers Union backed a letter by a bipartisan group of 31 senators— 28 of whom are still in office—to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in support of strong COOL rules that put Americans first. Despite this support for COOL in the upper chamber, it’s as important as ever that Congress hears from consumers.

    Join us, make your voice heard, and let your lawmakers know you oppose the repeal of country-of-origin labeling.

    This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

    Read past installments of our Policy & Action feature.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Now in effect, net neutrality rules should ensure a 'fast, fair, and open' Internet

    Following an appeals court ruling on June 11, 2015, that denied a request by the telecom industry to suspend the rules while the issue is being litigated, the FCC's new net neutrality rules are now in effect.

    You probably won't feel any immediate impact, because many Internet service providers (ISPs) have already agreed to abide by some key open Internet tenets, including the elimination of blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization of content traveling through their pipes. But the long-term implications could be significant: By putting Internet start-ups and innovators on a level playing field with more established businesses, the ruling fosters competition and could result in more choice for consumers.  

    The new open Internet rules were championed by the Federal Communications Commission and many consumer groups, including Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. Many cable and telecom companies and their respective associations and trade groups opposed the rules.

    In a statement released yesterday following the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the decision a victory for Internet consumers and innovators. "Starting Friday, there will be a referee on the field to keep the Internet fast, fair, and open," he said. "Blocking, throttling, pay-for-priority fast lanes, and other efforts to come between consumers and the Internet are now things of the past.”

    Read "FCC to Make Net Neutrality the Law" for background on these open Internet guidelines.

    The FCC's new net neutrality rules reclassified broadband Internet as a public utility like phone service, giving the FCC more regulatory power over high-speed Internet and its providers. But cable and telecom companies immediately sued, arguing that the FCC lacked the authority to make the change. Both sides had requested an expedited hearing, which was what yesterday's ruling was about. While the appeals court denied the stay requested by a telecom industry association, saying that it hadn’t “satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay pending court review,” that only means that the larger lawsuit will continue, possibly as far as the Supreme Court.

    Beyond the legal challenge, there's another potential stumbling block for proponents of the current net neutrality rules: Republicans in Congress have inserted a provision in an  appropriations bill that would freeze funding to implement net neutrality until the court has made its ruling on the legal challenge. The bill has cleared a subcommittee, but still has a long way to go in the legislative process.

    —James K. Willcox

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    To clear the air, clean your air purifier filter

    Consider an air purifier as a last resort after you’ve done everything else you can do to improve your home’s air quality, such as banning indoor smoking, banishing pets from bedrooms, and vacuuming often. But if you still think you need a portable air purifier, keep in mind that there’s more to owning one than plugging it in and switching it on. Routinely cleaning or replacing the filter should keep your model doing its job for years.

    Most of the air purifiers in Consumer Reports' tests have a filter indicator that tells you whether a part of the purifier needs to be cleaned or replaced. The challenge is that many of today’s air purifiers use a few different technologies. In addition to a pre-filter, which is usually cleaned rather than replaced, you’ll occasionally need to replace the HEPA filter and perhaps a carbon filter. We include these expenses in the annual costs we list in our ratings. Check your manual for other maintenance requirements, especially for more advanced models.

    One more point about filter indicators: While some newer air purifiers might tell you it's time to clean or replace a filter based on how much you’ve actually used the unit, some others base their recommendation on time alone. So if you run your purifier less often, you might prefer to visually inspect at least the HEPA filter before tossing it to keep from replacing filters unnecessarily. That’s also what you need to do if you replace the filter on your forced-air heating/cooling system with a denser one designed to filter out dust and smoke in circulating air, such as the $20 Filtrete Healthy Living Ultimate Allergen Reduction 1900 MPR. Such replacement filters have no way of indicating that they’re getting clogged.

    If you’re shopping for an air purifier, check out our Ratings of 40 portable room and whole-house (labeled home) air purifiers. Among top-scoring portables are the $250 Honeywell HPA300 and $300 Whirlpool Whispure AP51030K. Our air purifier buying guide will give you a rundown on the latest advances in this category.

    —Ed Perratore (@EdPerratore on Twitter)
     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 06/12/15--10:44: Best used-car deals
  • Best used-car deals

    A late-model used car can be one of the best values you'll find when buying a car. With relatively low mileage, modern safety and convenience features, and usually a much lower price than similar new vehicles, these used cars are in the sweet spot of auto deals.

    We've scoured through the used car options and put together this list of best deals on 2010-2013 vehicles in a variety of categories. Each of the vehicles featured are models recommended by Consumer Reports. In making these selections, we focused on models that show the greatest depreciation from their original retail price, then culled the list to just those vehicles that meet our stringent criteria to be Recommended, including good performance in our tests, average or above safety scores, and average or better reliability. The final selections highlight desirable configurations with standout depreciation. For most cars, there are similar savings on other variations, as could be seen in detail on the model pages. Due to the tough criteria for selection, diversity is limited for some car types.  

    Current price from dealer: $15,450 (original MSRP: $22,325)

    Known for its dependability, the Toyota Camry is an attractive used-car purchase. Generally speaking, the V6 models depreciate a little more than the four-cylinder models (about 2 percent). However, the four-cylinder versions are plentiful, more fuel efficient, and cost less to purchase and maintain. We got 26 mpg overall with the four in 2010, aided by a six-speed automatic transmission. The freshening for the 2010 model year helped the Camry improve its standing among midsized sedans, with a composed ride, secure handling, and quiet, spacious cabin.

    Vehicle Mileage MSRP When New Buying From Dealer Avg Price Drop In Retail Value vs. MSRP
    2010 Honda Civic DX sedan, auto 66,000 $16,455 $11,150 32%
    2010 Honda Civic Hybrid sedan, auto 66,000 $23,800 $13,300 44%
    2010 Honda Fit navi, auto
    66,000 $19,110 $12,150 36%
    2010 Mazda3 s, auto 66,000 $19,985 $12,600 37%
    2010 Volkswagen Golf 5-cyl., auto 66,000 $18,720 $10,650 43%
    2011 Honda Civic EX-L sedan, auto
    51,000 $21,955 $15,375 30%
    2011 Mazda3 i Touring sedan, auto 51,000 $18,950 $12,800 32%
    2011 Nissan Leaf SL
    51,000 $33,720 $14,250 58%
    2012 Honda Civic LX sedan, auto
    40,000 $18,805 $15,075 20%
    2012 Honda Fit navi, auto
    40,000 $19,690 $15,600 21%
    2012 Mazda3 s Touring, auto 40,000 $22,100 $15,975 28%
    2012 Toyota Corolla LE, auto 40,000 $17,910 $14,900 17%
    2013 Volkswagen Golf 5-cyl., auto 22,000 $19,095 $15,250 20%
    2013 Volkswagen Golf TDI, auto 22,000 $25,335 $20,575 19%
    2013 Honda Civic EX-L coupe, navi, auto
    22,000 $23,765 $19,975 16%
    2013 Honda Fit, navi, auto
    22,000 $19,790 $17,600 11%
    Vehicle Mileage MSRP When New Buying From Dealer Avg Price Drop In Retail Value vs. MSRP
    2010 Honda Accord EX-L, auto
    66,000 $26,830 $16,750 38%
    2010 Mazda6 V6, auto 66,000 $24,565 $14,650 40%
    2011 Honda Accord EX, auto 51,000 $24,905 $17,975 28%
    2011 Mazda6 i Grand Touring, auto
    51,000 $26,820 $15,300 43%
    2011 Toyota Camry LE, auto
    51,000 $22,325 $15,450 31%
    2012 Ford Fusion SEL 40,000 $25,300 $16,575 34%
    2012 Honda Accord EX-L, navi, auto 40,000 $29,855 $20,950 30%
    2012 Mazda6 i Touring Plus, auto 40,000 $24,730 $15,600 37%
    2012 Toyota Camry L, auto
    40,000 $22,055 $17,125 22%
    2013 Honda Accord EX-L, navi, auto 22,000 $29,995 $24,950 17%
    2013 Toyota Camry L 22,000 $22,235 $19,575 12%
    Vehicle Mileage MSRP When New Buying From Dealer Avg Price Drop In Retail Value vs. MSRP
    2010 Acura RDX SH-AWD   66,000 $34,520 $20,475 41%
    2010 Honda CR-V LX AWD 66,000 $22,795 $15,350 33%
    2010 Mitsubishi Outlander ES AWD
    66,000 $22,240 $12,250 45%
    2010 Nissan Rogue S AWD 66,000 $21,540 $14,150 34%
    2011 Acura RDX SH-AWD 51,000 $34,620 $22,950 34%
    2011 Honda CR-V LX AWD 51,000 $21,695 $16,125 26%
    2011 Nissan Rogue S AWD 51,000 $22,060 $15,600 29%
    2011 Toyota RAV4 V6 4WD
    51,000 $25,460 $18,400 28%
    2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD 40,000 $34,895 $26,750 23%
    2012 Nissan Rogue S AWD 40,000 $22,780 $16,975 25%
    2012 Toyota RAV4 V6 4WD 40,000 $26,085 $20,950 20%
    2013 Mitsubishi Outlander ES AWD 22,000 $21,770 $17,450 20%
    2013 Nissan Rogue S AWD 22,000 $22,310 $17,125 23%
    Vehicle Mileage MSRP When New Buying From Dealer Avg Price Drop In Retail Value vs. MSRP
    2010 Acura MDX Base AWD   66,000 $42,230 $23,950 43%
    2010 Lexus GX 460 66,000 $51,970 $35,300 32%
    2010 Toyota Highlander SE 4WD 66,000 $33,930 $23,875 30%
    2011 Acura MDX Base AWD 
    51,000 $42,580 $27,050 36%
    2011 Honda Pilot LX 4WD 51,000 $29,645 $20,525 31%
    2011 Lexus GX 460 51,000 $53,045 $38,700 27%
    2011 Toyota Highlander SE 4WD 51,000 $34,750 $27,075 22%
    2012 Acura MDX Base AWD 40,000 $42,930 $30,075 30%
    2012 Honda Pilot LX 4WD 40,000 $30,220 $22,800 25%
    2012 Toyota Highlander SE 4WD 40,000 $35,300 $28,100 20%
    2013 Acura MDX Base AWD, with Tech 22,000 $46,955 $36,250 23%
    2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4WD 22,000 $40,170 $32,125 20%
    Vehicle Mileage MSRP When New Buying From Dealer Avg Price Drop In Retail Value vs. MSRP
    2010 Honda Accord Crosstour EX-L 4WD V6 66,000 $34,020 $18,125 47%
    2010 Kial Soul Sport
    66,000 $18,195 $13,000 29%
    2010 Pontiac Vibe AWD 66,000 $20,275 $11,625 43%
    2010 Toyota Matrix S AWD
    66,000 $20,910 $13,750 34%
    2010 Toyota Venza
    AWD 4-cyl.
    66,000 $27,725 $18,700 33%
    2011 Honda Accord Crosstour EX-L 4WD V6 51,000 $34,140 $19,625 43%
    2011 Toyota Venza AWD 4-cyl. 51,000 $27,925 $20,100 28%
    2012 Honda Accord Crosstour EX-L 4WD V6, navi 40,000 $36,640 $24,550 33%
    2012 Toyota Venza LE AWD 4-cyl. 40,000 $28,875 $20,900 28%
    2013 Toyota Venza LE AWD 4-cyl. 22,000 $29,300 $22,350 24%
             
    Vehicle Mileage MSRP When New Buying From Dealer Avg Price Drop In Retail Value vs. MSRP
    2010 Acura TL Base w/Tech Pkg   66,000 $38,835 $21,050 46%
    2010 Acura TSX V6
    66,000 $34,850 $20,000 43%
    2010 Infiniti G37 sedan 66,000 $33,250 $19,825 40%
    2010 Lincoln MKZ   66,000 $34,115 $16,375 52%
    2011 Acura TL Base w/Tech Pkg 51,000 $39,035 $23,250 40%
    2011 Acura TSX V6 51,000 $32,710 $21,575 34%
    2011 Infiniti G25 51,000 $30,950 $19,525 37%
    2011 Lexus CT 200h Premium 51,000 $30,900 $22,400 28%
    2011 Lexus IS 350 51,000 $41,030 $26,850 35%
    2011 Lincoln MKZ 51,000 $34,330 $18,450 46%
    2012 Acura TL Base w/Tech Pkg 40,000 $39,335 $25,575 35%
    2012 Acura TSX V6 40,000 $35,350 $25,575 28%
    2012 Infiniti G25 40,000 $32,400 $23,225 28%
    2012 Lexus IS 350 40,000 $40,220 $29,125 28%
    2012 Lincoln MKZ 40,000 $36,535 $21,925 40%
    2012 Volvo S60 T5
    40,000 $31,300 $22,275 29%
    2013 Acura TL Base w/Tech Pkg 22,000 $39,635 $28,550 28%
    2013 Infiniti G37 22,000 $41,500 $28,300 32%
    Vehicle Mileage MSRP When New Buying From Dealer Avg Price Drop In Retail Value vs. MSRP
    2010 Lexus GS 450h 66,000 $56,550 $30,225 47%
    2010 Lexus LS 460
    66,000 $64,680 $35,050 46%
    2011 Mercedes-Benz C300 Luxury AWD 51,000 $37,910 $22,500 41%
    2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 Luxury AWD 51,000 $51,900 $31,950 38%
    2012 Infiniti M35h 40,000 $53,700 $32,775 39%
    2012 Lexus LS 460
    40,000 $67,630 $50,600 25%
    2012 Mercedes-Benz E350 Luxury AWD 40,000 $52,990 $36,200 32%
    Vehicle Mileage MSRP When New Buying From Dealer Avg Price Drop In Retail Value vs. MSRP
    2010 Toyota Sienna LE   66,000 $26,065 $16,125 38%
    2011 Toyota Sienna LE 51,000 $29,200 $20,200 31%
    2012 Toyota Sienna LE 40,000 $29,700 $22,525 24%
    2013 Toyota Sienna Limited 22,000 $40,105 $34,050 15%
    Vehicle Mileage MSRP When New Buying From Dealer Avg Price Drop In Retail Value vs. MSRP
    2010 Honda Ridgeline RT 66,000 $28,450 $18,875 34%
    2010 Toyota Tundra Base Reg 4WD 66,000 $28,705 $16,675 42%
    2011 Honda Ridgeline RT 51,000 $28,900 $21,475 26%
    2011 Toyota Tundra Base Reg 4WD 51,000 $29,130 $18,275 37%
    2012 Honda Ridgeline RT Crew 4WD 40,000 $29,350 $23,600 20%
    2012 Toyota Tundra Base Reg 4WD 40,000 $30,350 $19,875 35%
    2013 Toyota Tundra Base Reg 4WD 22,000 $30,550 $21,550 29%

    Continue your research by comparing ratings, reliability, reviews, fuel economy, performance, and much more (available to subscribers). For a list of the most reliable used cars covering ten model years, see our best and worst used cars report.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Keep your air conditioner humming

    Dirt is the enemy of an efficient air conditioner. Keep it clean and you’ll be rewarded with more cooling and lower utility bills. Ignore it and you can shorten the unit’s life by making it work too hard. If your central air unit is aging but not yet kaput, you may want to wait until next summer to replace it. That’s when new energy efficiency standards kick in; they’ll save you money over the lifetime of the unit. Here’s how to keep your A/C going:

    Central air conditioners

    Call a pro. Once a year, have a licensed professional change all filters; clean and flush the coils, drain pan, and drainage system; vacuum the blower compartments; and check the refrigerant and mechanical components.

    Insulate ductwork. Make sure ducts are sealed and insulated. Up to 40 percent of cooling energy can be lost when uninsulated ducts pass through uncooled spaces such as attics. Make sure that connections at vents and registers are well-sealed where they meet floors, walls, and ceilings.

    Do seasonal checks. Clear debris from around the outdoor unit regularly and keep vegetation at least 2 to 3 feet away. Clean indoor grills and filters every month. If the filter looks dirty, change it. A dirty filter will slow airflow and make the system work harder.

    Most reliable central air conditioners

    If you need to replace your central air system, choosing one of the more reliable brands from our Centrail Air Reliability Survey can boost the odds that you'll be comfortable. Read the full report.

    Room air conditioners

    Clean or replace dirty filters. Clean filters once a month during the cooling season. Vacuum off debris, then wash the filter in warm, soapy water; be sure filters are dry before you reinstall them. Replace a filter if it’s damaged.

    Vacuum coils and fins. Use an upholstery-brush attachment, taking care not to deform soft fins. If possible, remove the cover and use a soft brush or a can of compressed air on hidden dirt.

    Avoid short cycling. Wait 5 minutes after shutting off the unit to restart it. That allows pressure in the refrigeration system to equalize, avoiding stress on the compressor.

    The best room air conditioners

    Small: 5,000 to 6,500 Btu/hr. (Cools 100-300 sq. ft.)

    Medium: 7,000 to 8,500 Btu/hr. (Cools 250-400 sq. ft.)

    Large: 9,800 to 12,500 Btu/hr. (Cools 350-650 sq. ft.)

    —Mary H.J. Farrell (@mhjfarrell on Twitter)

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    FCC Lifeline program has a problem

    When the Federal Communications Commission votes later this month on a proposal to subsidize broadband service for low-income families, the outcome seems certain. The three Democrats on the five-member board have already expressed support for the plan. But even the plan's author—FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler—acknowledges what many critics have been saying: that the 30-year-old Lifeline program that will distribute the funds is a magnet for abuse.  

    Significant reforms were adopted in 2012, but a flood of false applications continues to plague Lifeline’s cell phone program, bestowing free phones and a $9.25-a-month service subsidy on people who don’t deserve them. According to a 2013 report in the Wall Street Journal, 41 percent of the 6 million Lifeline subscribers enrolled in five cell phone plans could not produce documents to verify their eligibility. In fact, many didn’t even bother to respond to requests from the FCC to do so.

    Before the program guidelines were strengthened, subscribers could verify their low-income status by simply signing their names to a form. Now they’re required to provide proof that they’re eligible for food stamps, housing assistance, or Medicaid. But investigators in Oklahoma and Indiana have revealed how easy it is to circumvent restrictions.

    Shopping for a new phone or cellphone provider? Be sure to check out our buying guide and Ratings.

    In some cases, Lifeline plans were registered with forged signatures to people who had not requested them. In others, they were assigned to vacant homes. Last November, a TV producer from a Denver news team received a free cell phone from a street-side vendor with ease. When he walked up to the tent and said he didn’t have a food stamp card, the vendor simply used one belonging to another citizen.

    Indeed, sidewalk salesmen hired by vendors to work these booths said they were encouraged by their employers to push the applications through regardless of issues. In Denver, they routinely accepted fake food stamp cards, including one with “training card” on it and another clearly printed from an Internet file. Because they receive $3 for each new subscriber they enroll, street agents are eager to approve everyone.

    All told, overzealous cell phone carriers and vendors received more than $96 million in fines from the FCC. That may sound like stern punishment, but it's outweighed by the profits that the companies pull in. For instance, TerraCom—one of the companies targeted in the Oklahoma investigation—received $52.3 million from the Lifeline program in 2012. Less than a year later, it agreed to pay $1 million along with an affiliate to resolve FCC claims of improper reimbursements.

    In the end, Wheeler makes a strong case for expanding the Lifeline subsidy to include broadband service. In today's world, the Internet is an indispensable tool for job hunting, education, and managing family medical issues. It would be foolish to deny a significant portion of the populace those benefits. Remember, Wheeler isn't asking to raise the $9.25 a month subsidy. He just wants to give people more say in how they use it.  

    But that won't work if the program is plagued by abuse. The challenge facing the FCC is to find more effective ways to combat fraud while pursuing Lifeline's mission—and make sure the money goes to the people who truly need it.

    —Chris Raymond

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    The number in your phone that could save your life

    Listing a family member or friend in your cell-phone contacts as "ICE"—short for In Case of Emergency—could help medical personnel contact someone who can give them information if you’re unconscious or unable to communicate during a medical emergency, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

    ACEP says paramedics, nurses, and doctors are "increasingly aware" that patients are using ICE numbers and know to look for them. The group recommends having at least two ICE contacts, but be sure that anyone listed is familiar with your medical history.

    Save these in your phone as "ICE - 1" and "ICE - 2," etc. If you prefer, list the contact's relationship to you, such as "ICE - Spouse"—but ACEP advises always starting with "ICE."

    If your phone is set to lock, making it difficult to access your contacts, listing ICE info on a sticker, in an emergency-contact app that places your ICE numbers on the lock screen, or on an easy-to-find card in your wallet may be a better idea.

    ACEP also advises people to carry a summary of their medical history in their wallet. When putting that together, remember another acronym: MAD. M for medicines; A for allergies; and D for doctors.

    A version of this article also appeared in the May 2015 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Corvette tragedy highlights problem with unique car controls

    As tragedy demonstrates time and time again, there is true value in conventionally designed controls for vehicles. When an automaker comes up with inventive interfaces for traditional functions, it creates the risk that drivers may not be able to appropriately react in an emergency situation.

    This confusing-controls issue has been repeated in cases of unintended acceleration in vehicles with push-button starters; an SUV on train tracks that couldn’t move out of the way in time, supposedly because the driver couldn’t figure out the gearshift stalk; awkwardly placed transmission buttons; and now, sadly, to an older driver and his dog who succumbed to heat exhaustion when they were trapped in a 2007 Chevrolet Corvette.

    This week in Texas, an elderly man was unable to open the door to his Corvette on a hot day. News reports point to a problem that cut off power in the car, rendering the electric door switches inoperable.

    In the sixth- and current seventh-generation Corvettes, rather than traditional hinged door-release handles inside and out, electric buttons release the door. This approach likely shaves ounces from the production vehicle and enables a clean, aerodynamic exterior.

    However, it doesn’t truly solve a consumer need. And it can put occupants in peril. If the interior pushbutton release fails to work—say if the battery is dead—a redundant mechanical release is located alongside the driver and passenger seats, akin to a common fuel-filler release lever. If working properly, this would allow an otherwise trapped occupant to exit—assuming they know where to look. (Watch a video demonstration.) In addition, most Corvette coupes of that era came with a removable top that could be manually operated.

    Looking through our car reliability data, we see that problems with door locks and latches are among the most common complaints. But there isn’t any worrisome trends among Corvettes.

    See our guide to car safety.

    The takeaway

    A key lesson from such tragic tales is to read your owner’s manual. Today’s cars have more features than ever, including some you may not even realize you have. Indeed, a quick look at Corvette forums show that some owners—and dealer sales staff—don't know this release exists.

    No matter what car, by reading through the manual, you will be better versed in the vehicle’s operation and be able to get the most from the ownership experience. Be sure to return the manual to the glove box when done. Likewise, when buying a new car, don’t rush from the showroom as soon as the paperwork is signed. Allow the salesperson to give you a proper tour of the car and its key features.

    While it is hard to prepare for every random, unexpected scenario, consider keeping a self-rescue tool in your glove box. Such compact tools typically offer an easy means to cut the seat belt and break the side glass in case an escape is needed.

    For manufacturers, we hope such events remind them that consumers need simple solutions. As cars become stunningly complicated, their core function remains to transport people safely from Point A to Point B. Unique takes on common functions often don’t aid that basic mission.

    Jeff Bartlett

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    White House takes a stand on antibiotics in meat production

    If you get invited to dine at the White House, there’s good news: The beef and poultry the chef prepares comes from animals raised without antibiotics. But if you’re grabbing lunch at a federal government cafeteria in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere in the country, it’s a different story.

    Antibiotics in meat production is a public health threat. Last week President Obama directed government cafeterias to start buying meat and poultry from producers that follow the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) guidelines for “responsible antibiotic use.” The problem, critics say, is that government agencies have defined “responsible antibiotic use” in a way that may not reduce the amount of antibiotics used on farms by very much.

    In FDA parlance, “responsible use” means antibiotics are not given to animals to promote growth, but the drugs can still be used to prevent disease. Consumer Reports has a different viewpoint: that responsible use should mean antibiotics are given to animals only when they are actually sick. Antibiotics in meat production should not be routine.

    Read about Consumer Reports' participation at the June 2, 2015, White House Forum on antibiotics and join our fight to stop the spread of these superbugs.

    Cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other animals raised in the U.S. consume 32.5 million pounds of antibiotics a year—mainly to prevent disease in large scale, crowded industrial farming conditions—including drugs that are used to fight disease in people. Antibiotics in meat production account for 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. This kind of low-dose chronic use creates ideal conditions for breeding superbugs—bacteria that has evolved to become immune to antibiotics.

    According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic resistant bacteria in food cause about 440,000 illnesses annually. As a result, new initiatives aiming to curb antibiotic resistance and reduce antibiotic overuse have also come to encompass restrictions on antibiotics in meat production.

    The FDA has asked drug companies to change the labels on antibiotics used in animals to indicate that they are for disease treatment and prevention and not for growth promotion. By the end of 2016, the drugs must be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian who oversees their use and will no longer be available over-the-counter as they are now. But veterinarians can still use low-dose antibiotics to “ensure animal health,” or to prevent or control disease, which means the practice of giving animals low doses of antibiotics throughout their lives can continue, just under another name.

    That’s an enormous loophole, said Laura Rogers, director of George Washington University’s Antibiotic Resistance Center. “There is a looming public health crisis, and this agency and this administration are not moving with the sense of urgency we see everywhere else in the world.”

    Consumer Reports believes that antibiotics in meat production should not be used except to treat sick animals. “We’re opposed to administering antibiotics to healthy animals, and we oppose any mass administration of antibiotics in feed and water,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “We would never give kids who go to daycare antibiotics every day to prevent disease, yet that’s what we’re doing with animals.”

    We appreciate the steps announced by the administration. But, like the White House, federal cafeterias should be serving meat that comes from animals who have not been given antibiotics for growth or disease prevention. And we have to keep pushing to stop the use of antibiotics on healthy animals. As long as this use is permitted, we can't make the progress needed to keep antibiotics effective for treating human illnesses.

    —Roni Caryn Rabin

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 06/13/15--02:59: Where to buy a bike helmet
  • Where to buy a bike helmet

    You can buy bike helmets at mass retailers, sporting goods stores, and online. You'll find more models to choose from in bigger stores, but you’ll get more attention at specialty bike shops, according to Consumer Reports' secret shoppers.  

    We sent about a dozen of our shoppers to 50 stores in six states. They reported that they didn’t get much help choosing a helmet or getting a proper fit in some of the big stores, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Target, and Walmart. And when they did find help, the salespeople usually didn’t spend much time answering questions or helping them get measured for a proper fit.

    Fit is important, because if your bike helmet is too loose or doesn't cover your forehead it may not protect you when you need it. And a helmet that's not comfortable or is difficult to adjust is less likely to be worn in the first place.  

    You don't have to spend a lot to find a great bike helmet. Find out which models we recommend. And learn out to stand out at night on your bike.

    Finding the greatest variety of brands and models to choose from may depend on where you shop, even if it's the same store. For example, a Dick's store in New York had just six bike helmet models available, while the same chain in California had 20.

    Our shoppers also found that the bigger stores had lower prices than the specialty shops. "You might find some of the more expensive models to be more stylish," says Rich Handel, assistant test project leader. "But when it comes to protection and comfort, you don't need to spend a lot of money." The 16 adult and seven children's helmets that Consumer Reports tested ranged from $12 to $220.

    Wherever you buy your bike helmet, check the return policy to make sure you can exchange it. This is especially true for online sales, because you won't be able try it on first.

    —Sue Byrne

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 06/13/15--04:59: Timeshare resale scams
  • Timeshare resale scams

    Buying a timeshare vacation rental has often been fraught with fraud. Now scammers are targeting owners who want to sell.

    During tough economic times, many timeshare owners may decide they can no longer afford their vacation rentals. Or they may have inherited a timeshare as part of a parent’s estate and don’t want to keep it.

    That’s where scammers step in. The basic “timeshare resale” fraud works like this: Scammers target likely sellers of timeshares with the promise that they either have a buyer ready to purchase your timeshare or the assurance that they can sell it. All you need to do is pay an upfront fee—usually via a wire transfer—to cover closing costs, services, taxes, timeshare maintenance or other fees. Unfortunately, once you send the money, no sale, rental or purchase is completed and the scammer disappears with hundreds—even thousands—of dollars.

    Read about "How to protect yourself from debt collection scams."

    The scam doesn’t always stop there. A second fraudulent business may then contact the victimized owner offering to help recover the money lost in the first scam for yet another fee. As with the first scam, no money is recovered and telephone calls and emails are unanswered.

    A recent variation of the scam preys on owners of vacation timeshares in Mexico. The California Department of Real Estate warns:

        “The fraudsters use the names of companies (some of which have professional-looking but usually phony websites, fancy-sounding titles and addresses, and purport to be escrow, timeshare resale, finance, and/or title service businesses) and individuals in California, and   many purport to work with Mexican government officials… It appears that a number of the scammers are or have engaged in identity theft, and are representing themselves as actual California real estate licensees. In those cases, the criminals will use an actual real estate broker’s name and license number in an attempt to legitimize the transaction. If and when the timeshare owner victim calls the broker’s number, which has been provided via email, phone call, postal mail, or on the website that has been created to complete the fraud, the voice of the supposed broker is actually the voice of the scammer.”

    Another version, which has been growing in popularity, has the scammer offering to act as an intermediary for a buyer in Mexico (or elsewhere in Latin America) who wants to purchase property in the United States in order to facilitate obtaining an American visa. All the seller has to do is wire a transaction fee…. You know the rest.

    To avoid becoming the latest casualty of scammers, follow these steps to stay free of possible fraud:

    1. Be wary of upfront fees. Legitimate fees are typically paid after the sale is concluded or are deducted from the sale price.
    2. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Timeshare resale scammers often promise they have a buyer who is ready and willing to pay a lot in order to get you to send money. Be cautious; no one can promise a quick sale.
    3. Don’t wire money, pay in cash, or send a money order, certified bank or cashier’s check. Money sent by these methods is very difficult for law enforcement officials to help you recover. It’s as good as lost.
    4. Do your research. Don’t be tricked by a fancy address or professional-looking website. Contact the State Attorney General and local consumer protection agencies in the state where the reseller is located, as well as the Better Business Bureau, to determine if there are any existing complaints.
    5. Check with your resort. Find out whether the resort where your timeshare is located imposes any restrictions, fees or other limitations associated with sales. Ask if the resort has its own resale program or has ever worked with the reseller who has contacted you.
    6. Demand everything in writing. Consider having an attorney review the documents before you sign anything.

    By staying vigilant, you can ensure that you profit from selling your timeshare, instead of giving the money to a crook.

    Catherine Fredman

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best drugs to treat seasonal allergies

    Runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes—the symptoms of allergies can make you miserable and desperate for relief. Avoiding substances that trigger your allergies can help, but since that is not always possible, you may reach for a medication.

    Several types of allergy treatments are available—allergy shots, antihistamines (pills, eye drops, and nasal sprays), cromolyn, leukotriene blockers, and nasal steroid sprays. This report focuses on second-generation antihistamine pills and nasal sprays, such as Allegra, Clarinex, Claritin, Xyzal, and Zyrtec.

    But, nasal steroid sprays such as fluticasone propionate (Flonase), mometasone furoate (Nasonex), and triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort) are considered by experts the best, first option for seasonal allergies. Both Flonase and Nasacort are recently available without a prescription. One downside is that it can take hours or even days before they start to work. And the steroid sprays must be used consistently to get the greatest benefit. Because of that, some allergy sufferers may choose instead to take one of the second-generation antihistamine medications.

    And while the newer, second-generation antihistamines are generally safe and are less likely to cause sedation and drowsiness compared to the older, first-generation antihistamines, such as Benadryl Allergy (generic name diphenhydramine), Chlor-Trimeton Allergy, and Dimetapp Allergy, those problems can still occur, especially at higher doses. If you take a newer antihistamine, don’t drive or operate machinery until you know how it affects you.

    The seven antihistamine drugs we evaluated for this report all work equally well at relieving allergy symptoms, with none being clearly better or safer than the others. But they differ in how much they cost—ranging from $11 to more than $200. Choosing the right medication could save you hundreds of dollars a year or more.

     

    If you and your doctor have decided an antihistamine is appropriate for your allergy symptoms, we have selected the following as Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs based on dosing convenience, cost, effectiveness and safety:

    • Cetirizine
    • Fexofenadine
    • Loratadine

    Those are all low-cost generics available in various formulations (liquid, tablet, chewables, dissolvables) without a prescription. Some people may respond well to one antihistamine while getting no benefit from another. If one of our Best Buy picks does not work for you, then try a different one.

    Before you start taking an antihistamine on a regular basis, make sure you have allergies—and not a cold, for example. Some people mistakenly think they have allergies when they actually have something else entirely, such as asthma, a nasal polyp, or severe heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease). See your doctor for a proper diagnosis unless you have already been diagnosed with allergies.

    In people who have allergies, the body’s immune system overreacts when exposed to otherwise harmless substances—animal dander, dust mites, mold spores, or pollen—by releasing excessive amounts histamine. That chemical is a part of the body’s natural defense mechanisms, and it works in part by widening blood vessels, which also causes congestion and sneezing.

    Allergies are fairly common. About 17.6 million adults and 6.6 million children in the U.S. were diagnosed with allergies in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include nasal congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy and watery eyes.

    Antihistamines work by blocking histamine, which is the main trigger of allergy symptoms in the nose, airways, and skin.

    Medications called "second-generation" antihistamines have eclipsed older antihistamines, such as Benadryl, chlorpheniramine (e.g. Chlor-Trimeton Allergy); clemastine (Tavist); brompheniramine (Dimetapp); and diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy) for treating allergy symptoms because they are less likely to cause sedation and drowsiness. Those newer antihistamines have been widely advertised, so you might recognize some of the brand names—Allegra, Claritin, Clarinex, Zyrtec, and Xyzal.  

    While the second-generation antihistamines can help relieve allergy symptoms, they usually don’t entirely clear up them up entirely. There’s also been a long-standing debate about just how much better they are than older, less expensive antihistamines and whether they’re worth the extra cost. There’s no easy answer.

    Most doctors advise their patients to use the newer pills, while others think their patients do just as well taking the older, nonprescription drugs. Some people respond better to the older antihistamines than the newer ones. In addition, a patient might get relief from an older drug without much sedation.

    Good to note: Studies have found slowed reaction times among some people taking the older antihistamines, even when they denied feeling drowsy. One concern is that could raise the risk for auto accidents and other incidents at home and work, although this link has not been clearly proven.

    Do you have allergies, or is it something else?

    And sedation and drowsiness can still occur when taking the newer medications, especially at higher doses, although they are thought to be safer in this regard. While fewer people experience serious sedation with the newer antihistamines, the labels on these drugs still warn people not to drive or operate machinery until you know how they affect you. Most of the newer antihistamines need to be taken just once a day while the older ones must be taken two or more times a day because their effect wears off more quickly. 

    We evaluated seven second-generation antihistamines—five oral medicines and two nasal sprays. All of them are available as generics, and three of the oral antihistamines are available as nonprescription over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. The drugs covered in this report are:

    Generic Name

    Brand Name(s)

    Available as a

    Prescription Generic Drug?

    Available as an OTC Drug?

    Oral medications

    Cetirizine

    Zyrtec

    Yes

    Yes

    Desloratadine

    Clarinex

    Yes

    No

    Fexofenadine

    Allegra

    Yes

    Yes

    Levocetirizine

    Xyzal

    Yes

    No

    Loratadine

    Claritin, Alavert

    Yes

    Yes

    Nasal sprays

    Azelastine nasal

    spray/pump

    Astelin, Astepro

    Yes

    No

    Olopatadine nasal spray

    Patanase

    Yes

    No

    Antihistamines  lessen the symptoms of hay fever and other allergies in a majority of people, though they don’t usually relieve symptoms entirely. And some people get more relief than others. The drugs can also become less effective with long-term use.

    The scientific literature comparing second-generation antihistamines against each other is not extensive—most of the studies are short-term, and only a few include large numbers of people. Our analysis shows that the drugs do not differ substantially in how well they work; symptoms are usually relieved within one to three hours and lasts for 12 to 24 hours.

    Studies also suggest that the tablet and liquid forms of second-generation antihistamines—cetirizine, desloratadine, fexofenadine, levocetirizine, and loratadine—don’t differ in any consistent way in terms of effectiveness, safety, or the side effects they cause.

    These medications all generally bring some relief in one to three hours but it is important to continually use them during the time you are exposed to the allergic trigger (e.g. pollen).  

    Table 1. Summary of Evidence on Antihistamines

    Generic Name

    (Brand names)

    Usual Adult Dose

    Proven Effective Against Hay Fever and

    Intermittent Allergies?1

    Proven Effective

    Against Year-round or

    Persistent Allergies?2

    Oral Medications

    Cetirizine

    (Zyrtec)

    10 mg once daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Desloratadine

    (Clarinex)

    5 mg once daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Fexofenadine

    (Allegra)

    60 mg once or twice daily, or 180 mg once daily

    Yes

    No3

    Levocetirizine

    (Xyzal)

    5 mg once daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Loratadine

    (Alavert, Claritin)

    10 mg once daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Nasal sprays

    Azelastine nasal spray/pump

    (Astelin, Astepro)

    One or two sprays per

    nostril twice daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Olopatadine nasal spray

    (Patanase)

    Two sprays per nostril

    twice daily

    Yes

    No

    1. Intermittent allergies are when symptoms last fewer than 4 days a week, or less than 4 weeks a year.

    2. Persistent allergies are symptoms are present more than 4 days a week and for more than 4 weeks a year.

    3. Sufficient evidence was not available for fexofenadine, although it is likely effective in treating year-round or persistent allergy symptoms.

    In studies comparing the newer antihistamines, 15 to 25 percent of people experienced at least one side effect. (See Table 2.)

    Drowsiness: The good news is that all of the newer antihistamines are less likely to cause sedation and drowsiness than older antihistamines. Specifically, studies indicate newer antihistamines cause drowsiness in fewer people than two older antihistamines, diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine.

    For the newer antihistamines, other research has found that cetirizine and levocetirizine caused sedation in more people than loratadine and desloratadine. Some other evidence suggests that cetirizine causes sedation in more people than fexofenadine. One observational study found no difference in sedation rates between loratadine and fexofenadine.

    Good to know: Alcohol can exacerbate drowsiness, so skip drinking it while taking antihistamines. And use caution if driving or operating heavy or dangerous machinery while taking an antihistamine.

    Table 2. Side Effects

    Relatively minor—usually go away in time:

    More serious—these can be dangerous and should be reported to a health-care professional:

    ■ Drowsiness

    ■ Dry mouth, nose, or throat

    ■ Hoarseness

    ■ Headache

    ■ Dizziness

    ■ Nausea

    ■ Rapid or pounding heartbeat

    ■ Unusual weakness

    ■ Nervousness

    ■ Stomach pain

    ■ Yellowing of the skin

    ■ Difficulty urinating

    ■ Vision problems

    Rare side effects: In a very small number of people, antihistamines can cause more serious reactions, such as rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations. See a doctor if you experience such symptoms.

    Two second-generation antihistamines (terfenadine and astemizole) were removed from the market because they led to a higher risk of potentially serious heart problems. Some evidence suggests that there might be a very small risk of heart problems with currently available antihistamines. A large study found that cetirizine was associated with an increased risk of heart arrhythmias, but other analyses, including a large safety analysis by the FDA, found no increased risk. Other research, however, indicated that cetirizine, desloratadine, fexofenadine, and loratadine do not pose an increased risk of arrhythmias.

    Special note about nasal anithistamine sprays: Azelastine and olopatadine have been linked to changes in taste sensations, including bitterness and nasal discomfort. Olopatadine nasal spray has been linked to nose bleeding, sores in the nose, and holes in the nasal septum.  

    Drug interatctions: Antihistamines can interact with other medicine or dietary supplements in ways that can be dangerous. Be sure to tell your doctor about all other medication you take, even if you think it might not be important. The main drugs to be concerned about are:

    • Antifungal medications, such as ketoconazole. They can increase the effect of some antihistamines.
    • Aspirin, which in large doses can cause ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a danger sign sometimes masked by antihistamines.
    • Certain types of fruit juice, such as grapefruit juice, apple juice, and orange juice. They might make some second-generation antihistamines less effective.
    • Any drugs known to change the way the heart beats, such as citalopram or ziprasidone. They should be used cautiously if you are taking antihistamines.
    • Medications used to improve breathing, such as theophylline. They may raise the risk of antihistamines side effects.
    • Certain antibiotics, such as erythromycin. They can increase the effects of antihistamines.
    • Antacids that contain aluminum or magnesium. When taken within 15 minutes of fexofenadine, these antacids significantly decreased the effect of that antihistamine.
    • The stomach acid reducer cimetidine, which increases the effect of azelastine nasal spray.

    If you take an antihistamine combined with a decongestant called pseudoephedrine, be aware that such products should be used with caution by people with high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, glaucoma, or prostate disease.

    People who take products that combine these drugs are more likely to have side effects, such as headaches and trouble sleeping.

    Children

    Cetirizine (Zyrtec), desloratadine (Clarinex), and levocetirizine (Xyzal) have been found to be safe and effective in children as young as six months old. Evidence on the safety and efficacy of loratadine (Claritin) is limited to children two years or older. Evidence for azelastine nasal spray, fexofenadine, and olopatadine nasal spray is limited to children six years or older.

    All seven second-generation antihistamines are approved for children. There is little research of good quality on how the second-generation antihistamines compare. Because of this, there is insufficient evidence to understand if any of the second-generation antihistamines are more effective at relieving allergy symptoms or pose greater safety concerns than the others. But overall, the medications are well-tolerated by children, with few kids stopping taking the medication because they have a problem with side effects.

    Children might experience drowsiness when taking antihistamines. This is especially important when it comes to teenagers who drive, because drowsiness can impede the ability to operate an automobile safely.

    If your child needs an antihistamine to treat hay fever or other respiratory symptoms due to allergies, we advise trying our Best Buy pick, loratadine, first. The available evidence finds loratadine is as effective as the other over-the-counter option, cetirizine, but it is less likely to cause sedation. One study in children found cetirizine and loratadine to be just as effective as first-generation antihistamines for relieving allergic rhinitis symptoms, and loratadine has been found to provide symptom relief at 5 mg to 10 mg daily. 

    Age, Race, and Gender Differences

    Not enough people older than 65 and people from various ethnic groups have been included in studies of antihistamines to know if the drugs affect them differently. There’s also insufficient evidence to determine if men and women respond to the drugs differently.

    People age 60 and older are more susceptible to the side effects of antihistamines, especially drowsiness. People older than 70 or so are at greater risk of falls in general, and antihistamine-induced drowsiness can raise that risk. The dosage of some second-generation antihistamines (primarily Zyrtec) should be reduced in older age and for people with kidney or liver problems.

    Important note for women who are pregnant: Though human studies have not been performed in pregnant women, animal studies have found that both nasal sprays can cause birth defects, so they should not be used by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. Azelastine nasal spray caused birth defects in mouse, rabbit, and rat studies, and olopatadine nasal spray has been associated with adverse effects on fetuses in animal studies.

    Pregnant or nursing women should use the second-generation antihistamines only if their doctor agrees it’s absolutely necessary. And even then, it should be limited to the oral and liquid formulations— cetirizine, desloratadine, fexofenadine, levocetirizine, and loratadine. Animal studies indicate that those second-generation antihistamines don’t increase the risk of birth defects. No clinical trials have been done in pregnant women to test the birth defect risk in those drugs.

    The newer antihistamines are comparable in terms of how well they work and how safe they are, while none of them have a distinct advantage over the others. The main difference is how much they cost (see Table 3.) Prices range from about $11 dollars per month to more than $200.

    Taking effectiveness, safety, cost, and dosing convenience into account, we have selected the following antihistamines as Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs:

    • Cetirizine
    • Fexofenadine
    • Loratadine

    All are low-cost generic drugs available in various formulations (liquid, tablet, chewables, dissolving tablets) without a prescription in drug and food stores, and many small convenience stores. And all are as effective and safe as the other second-generation antihistamines.

    Some people may respond well to one antihistamine while getting no benefit from another. So if cetirizine, fexofenadine or loratadine does not work for you, then try one of the other antihistamines.

    The monthly costs for our Best Buys vary considerably—see Table 3. That’s common for nonprescription drugs, so we urge you to shop around for the best price, especially if you need to take an antihistamine on a regular basis. You might want to check online as well to see which pharmacy chains offer the best prices on our Best Buys.

    In addition, some of these medications may cost as little as $4 for a month’s supply through discount generic drug programs run by major chain stores, such as Kroger, Sam’s Club, Target, and Walmart.

    For an even better bargain, if you take these drugs long-term, you may be able to get a three-month supply for as little as $10 through one of these programs. We note in the price chart starting below which antihistamines are available through the discount programs. Some stores, such as CVS and Walgreens, require a membership fee to participate and might charge higher prices. There might be other restrictions too, so check the details carefully to make sure your drug and dose are covered.

    In addition to second generation antihistamines, several other medications are available. Our analysis did not include these treatments.

    Nasal steroid sprays: Experts often suggest that the best, first option for most people is steroid sprays, such as fluticasone propionate (Flonase), mometasone furoate (Nasonex), and triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort).

    Although a 2013 analysis by the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research found that the research comparing antihistamines and steroid sprays directly was not sufficient to show that steroid sprays are clearly superior. At the same time, other studies have found steroid sprays to be more effective. Our medical consulants say that the overall evidence suggest steroid sprays are likely better at relieving congestion and improving quality of life.  

    That said, if a steroid spray doesn’t provide enough relief or you can’t tolerate the side effects—they can cause nose bleeds, sores in the nose, and in rare cases, holes in the cartilage of your nose—a second-generation antihistamine taken with the spray can often help. And if your symptoms are limited to watery, itchy eyes, then you might only need anithistamine eye drops.

    Combination products: Most antihistamines, new and old, are also available in combination with a decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine. Those combination products are not included in this analysis, but decongestant products should be used with caution by people with high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, glaucoma, or prostate disease. Consult a doctor if you are not sure whether you should use a combination product.

    Allergy shots and other treatments: If you use any of these or have questions, consult your doctor.

    • Leukotriene blockers. There are three: montelukast (Singulair and generic); zafirlukast (Accolate); and zileuton (Zyflo)
    • Cromolyn sodium
    • Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy
    • Antihistamine eye drops. These include products that contain only an antihistamine, such as olopatadine (Pataday), alcaftadine (Lastacaft), and ketotifen (available without a prescription), and combination products that contain both an antihistamine and a vasoconstricting agent, such as Naphcon-A, and Visine-A (naphazoline and pheniramine).

    Our evaluation is primarily based on independent scientific reviews of the evidence on the effectiveness, safety, and adverse effects of second-generation antihistamines from the Drug Effectiveness Review Project (2010) and from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2015). The full DERP report is available here. The AHRQ report can be found here. Overall, 3,121 studies and research articles were identified and screened. From these, the analysis focused on 18 studies that provided direct evidence of comparative effectiveness or safety.

    Prices for a drug can vary quite widely, even within a single city or town. The prices for prescription drugs in this report are national averages based on sales of the drugs in retail outlets. They reflect the retail cash price that would be paid for a month’s supply of each drug in April 2015. The prescription drug costs cited were obtained from a health-care information company, Symphony Health Solutions, which tracks sales of prescription drugs in the U.S. Symphony Health Solutions is not involved in Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs analysis or recommendations.

    Prices for nonprescription drugs were obtained from a nationwide sampling by Consumer Reports secret shoppers from four major chain pharmacies—CVS, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart (CVS  prices were excluded from the calculations for fexofenadine (Allegra and generic) due to lack of CVS generic price data).

    Consumer Reports selected the Best Buy Drugs using the following criteria. The drug (and dose) had to:

    ■ Be approved by the FDA for treating allergic rhinitis

    ■ Be as effective as any other second-generation antihistamine

    ■ Have a safety record equal to or better than other second-generation antihistamines

    ■ Have an average price for a 30-day supply that is substantially lower than the most costly second-generation antihistamine meeting the first two criteria.

    Bender BG, Berning S, Dudden R, Milgrom H, and Tran, Zung Vu.  Sedation and performance impairment of diphenhydramine and second-generation antihistamines: A meta-analysis.  J Allergy Clin Immunol.  2003;111:770-6.

    Benninger 2010 AAAI M, Farrar JR, Blaiss M, et al. Evaluating approved medications to treat allergic rhinitis in the United States: an evidence-based review of efficacy for nasal symptoms by class. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2010;104:13-29.

    Blackwell DL, Lucas JW, Clarke TC. Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(260). 2014.

    Bloom B, Jones LI, Freeman G. Summary health statistics for U.S. children: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(258). 2013.

    Carson S, Lee N, Thakurta S. Drug class review: Newer antihistamines. Update 2.  May, 2010.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0009327/pdf/TOC.pdf  Accessed May 20, 2015.

    Church MK, et al. Global Allergy and Asthma European Network. Risk of first-generation H(1)-antihistamines: a GA(2)LEN position paper. Allergy. 2010 Apr;65(4):459-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2009.02325.x. Epub 2010 Feb 8.

    Compalati E, et al. Systematic Review on the Efficacy of Fexofenadine in Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trials.  Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2011;156(1):1–15.

    Glacy J, Putnam K, Godfrey S, Falzon L, Mauger B, Samson D, Aronson N. Treatments for Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis. Comparative Effectiveness Review No. 120. (Prepared by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association Technology Evaluation Center Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-2007-10058-I.) AHRQ Publication No. 13-EHC098-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; July 2013.www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/reports/final.cfm.

    Herbert Moskowitz, Ph.D. and Candace Jeavons Wilkinson, Ph.D.  ANTIHISTAMINES AND DRIVING-RELATED BEHAVIOR: A REVIEW OF THE EVIDENCE FOR IMPAIRMENT.  June, 2004.  DOT HS 809 714.  http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/26000/26000/26043/580-Antihistamines.pdf   Accessed May 20, 2015.

    Perttula A, et al. Second-generation antihistamines exhibit a protective effect on drivers in traffic-a preliminary population-based case-control study. Traffic Inj Prev. 2014;15(6):551-5. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2013.861597.

    Seidman MD, et al. Clinical practice guideline: Allergic rhinitis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 Feb;152(1 Suppl):S1-43. doi: 10.1177/0194599814561600.

    Wheatley LM, Togias A. Clinical practice. Allergic rhinitis. N Engl J Med. 2015 Jan 29;372(5):456-63. doi: 10.1056/NEJMcp1412282.

    These materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Video streaming face-off: Amazon Prime Instant Video vs. Netflix

    When you subscribe to Amazon Prime Instant Video or Netflix—two of the leading video-streaming services—you’re buying something of a pig in a poke. Both services display their movies and television shows on a cluttered buffet table of screens, making it difficult to get a good overview of their selections. And both keep the actual number of films available a closely guarded secret, making it even more difficult to judge which service has the greatest choice. But we did some digging to get the information you need to decide which service is best for you.

    Behind the numbers

    This review—covering selection, extras, convenience, and cost—is based on our evaluation using a 1-to-5 scale, where 1 is the lowest possible score and 5 is the highest. (The scores here are not our traditional Ratings.) Individual scores are averaged within category, and the category scores are averaged to produce the overall score. 

    Share your opinion about the Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix streaming video services by leaving a comment below.

    —Jeff Blyskal (@JeffBlyskal on Twitter)

    Amazon Prime

    Instant Video

    Netflix

    Score: 1.3 Score: 2.0

    It’s so difficult to browse for movies on Amazon and Netflix that we turned to InstantWatcher.com, a site plugged into the databases of both providers. We found that Amazon Prime offered more than 17,000 standard- and high-definition movies and TV series, significantly more than Netflix, which had more than 10,000 when we updated our count in mid June.

    But Netflix pulled ahead overall by offering more than 7,500 HD videos vs. almost 3,500 for Amazon Prime. Back in February, before we published our report, Amazon promised subscribers “40,000 choices.” It counts every TV show episode as a separate title; InstantWatcher.com counts all episodes in a TV series as one title, which we think is more accurate and honest.

    After we published our report, Amazon did the right thing and has now reduced its claim to "thousands" of movies and episodes. An Amazon spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.  

    Check our buying guide and Ratings for TVs and tablets. And choose the best telecom-services provider.

    Amazon Prime

    Instant Video

    Netflix

    Score: 5 Score: 2

    Netflix provides some popular original series, including “Marco Polo,” “House of Cards,” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Amazon Prime offers some original shows, too, along with editor recommendations.

    But because it’s part of a massive retailing operation, Amazon throws in free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases, as well as free music streaming of more than 1 million songs and free, unlimited photo storage.

    Amazon Prime

    Instant Video

    Netflix

    Score: 2.5 Score: 5

    Our survey found Netflix considerably ahead. More devices were Netflix-ready; 88 percent of 130 Consumer Reports tested and recommended TVs, Blu-ray players, and stand-alone streaming devices (such as Roku and the Amazon Fire Stick) had its app installed. Amazon’s service was built into only 68 percent of those models.

    Consumers also seemed to find it easier to stream from Netflix. Its streaming comprised 35 percent of all peak-time U.S. and Canadian Internet traffic, according to Sandvine, a company that tracks such usage, vs. Amazon Instant Video’s 3 percent.

    Amazon Prime

    Instant Video

    Netflix

    Score: 5 Score: 5

    The average Netflix user watches five TV shows and three movies per week, according to the firm GfK Research. If you paid $2 per show or movie à la carte, you would end up paying more than $800 over the course of a year. On our scoring scale, you get a deal with both streaming services: Netflix costs $108 per year (for a standard plan), and Amazon Prime is just a little less, $99 per year.

    Amazon Prime

    Instant Video

    Netflix

    Score: 3.4 Score: 3.5

    If your primary interest is watching high-definition movies and TV series, Netflix should be your first choice. If you’d rather have greater choice but in standard definition, and you swoon at the thought of goodies such as free shipping, music downloads, and photo storage, Amazon Prime may be a better bet. But all things considered, the two are pretty equal

    This article, which originally appeared in the May, 2015 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser, was updated on June 12, 2015 after Amazon and InternetWatcher.com informed us of an error in InternetWatcher's count of HD titles, which understated the number of Amazon Prime titles by about 70 percent. Previously, Amazon would not disclose any information about exactly how many titles it offered. InternetWatcher has since corrected its search engine. The error had only a minor impact on Amazon's score in the category of Selection, which rose to 1.3 from 1.0, and the correction was not large enough to change Amazon's overall score of 3.4. 

     

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Best drugs to treat seasonal allergies

    Runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes—the symptoms of allergies can make you miserable and desperate for relief. Avoiding substances that trigger your allergies can help, but since that is not always possible, you may reach for a medication.

    Several types of allergy treatments are available—allergy shots, antihistamines (pills, eye drops, and nasal sprays), cromolyn, leukotriene blockers, and nasal steroid sprays. This report focuses on second-generation antihistamine pills and nasal sprays, such as Allegra, Clarinex, Claritin, Xyzal, and Zyrtec.

    But, nasal steroid sprays such as fluticasone propionate (Flonase), mometasone furoate (Nasonex), and triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort) are considered by experts the best, first option for seasonal allergies. Both Flonase and Nasacort are recently available without a prescription. One downside is that it can take hours or even days before they start to work. And the steroid sprays must be used consistently to get the greatest benefit. Because of that, some allergy sufferers may choose instead to take one of the second-generation antihistamine medications.

    And while the newer, second-generation antihistamines are generally safe and are less likely to cause sedation and drowsiness compared to the older, first-generation antihistamines, such as Benadryl Allergy (generic name diphenhydramine), Chlor-Trimeton Allergy, and Dimetapp Allergy, those problems can still occur, especially at higher doses. If you take a newer antihistamine, don’t drive or operate machinery until you know how it affects you.

    The seven antihistamine drugs we evaluated for this report all work equally well at relieving allergy symptoms, with none being clearly better or safer than the others. But they differ in how much they cost—ranging from $11 to more than $200. Choosing the right medication could save you hundreds of dollars a year or more.

     

    If you and your doctor have decided an antihistamine is appropriate for your allergy symptoms, we have selected the following as Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs based on dosing convenience, cost, effectiveness and safety:

    • Cetirizine
    • Fexofenadine
    • Loratadine

    Those are all low-cost generics available in various formulations (liquid, tablet, chewables, dissolvables) without a prescription. Some people may respond well to one antihistamine while getting no benefit from another. If one of our Best Buy picks does not work for you, then try a different one.

    Before you start taking an antihistamine on a regular basis, make sure you have allergies—and not a cold, for example. Some people mistakenly think they have allergies when they actually have something else entirely, such as asthma, a nasal polyp, or severe heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease). See your doctor for a proper diagnosis unless you have already been diagnosed with allergies.

    In people who have allergies, the body’s immune system overreacts when exposed to otherwise harmless substances—animal dander, dust mites, mold spores, or pollen—by releasing excessive amounts histamine. That chemical is a part of the body’s natural defense mechanisms, and it works in part by widening blood vessels, which also causes congestion and sneezing.

    Allergies are fairly common. About 17.6 million adults and 6.6 million children in the U.S. were diagnosed with allergies in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include nasal congestion, a runny nose, sneezing, and itchy and watery eyes.

    Antihistamines work by blocking histamine, which is the main trigger of allergy symptoms in the nose, airways, and skin.

    Medications called "second-generation" antihistamines have eclipsed older antihistamines, such as Benadryl, chlorpheniramine (e.g. Chlor-Trimeton Allergy); clemastine (Tavist); brompheniramine (Dimetapp); and diphenhydramine (Benadryl Allergy) for treating allergy symptoms because they are less likely to cause sedation and drowsiness. Those newer antihistamines have been widely advertised, so you might recognize some of the brand names—Allegra, Claritin, Clarinex, Zyrtec, and Xyzal.  

    While the second-generation antihistamines can help relieve allergy symptoms, they usually don’t clear them up entirely. There’s also been a long-standing debate about just how much better they are than older, less expensive antihistamines and whether they’re worth the extra cost. There’s no easy answer.

    Most doctors advise their patients to use the newer pills, while others think their patients do just as well taking the older, nonprescription drugs. Some people respond better to the older antihistamines than the newer ones. In addition, a patient might get relief from an older drug without much sedation.

    Good to note: Studies have found slowed reaction times among some people taking the older antihistamines, even when they denied feeling drowsy. One concern is that could raise the risk for auto accidents and other incidents at home and work, although this link has not been clearly proven.

    Do you have allergies, or is it something else?

    And sedation and drowsiness can still occur when taking the newer medications, especially at higher doses, although they are thought to be safer in this regard. While fewer people experience serious sedation with the newer antihistamines, the labels on these drugs still warn people not to drive or operate machinery until you know how they affect you. Most of the newer antihistamines need to be taken just once a day while the older ones must be taken two or more times a day because their effect wears off more quickly. 

    We evaluated seven second-generation antihistamines—five oral medicines and two nasal sprays. All of them are available as generics, and three of the oral antihistamines are available as nonprescription over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. The drugs covered in this report are:

    Generic Name

    Brand Name(s)

    Available as a

    Prescription Generic Drug?

    Available as an OTC Drug?

    Oral medications

    Cetirizine

    Zyrtec

    Yes

    Yes

    Desloratadine

    Clarinex

    Yes

    No

    Fexofenadine

    Allegra

    Yes

    Yes

    Levocetirizine

    Xyzal

    Yes

    No

    Loratadine

    Claritin, Alavert

    Yes

    Yes

    Nasal sprays

    Azelastine nasal

    spray/pump

    Astelin, Astepro

    Yes

    No

    Olopatadine nasal spray

    Patanase

    Yes

    No

    Antihistamines lessen the symptoms of hay fever and other allergies in a majority of people, though they don’t usually relieve symptoms entirely. And some people get more relief than others. The drugs can also become less effective with long-term use.

    The scientific literature comparing second-generation antihistamines against each other is not extensive—most of the studies are short-term, and only a few include large numbers of people. Our analysis shows that the drugs do not differ substantially in how well they work; symptoms are usually relieved within one to three hours and lasts for 12 to 24 hours.

    Studies also suggest that the tablet and liquid forms of second-generation antihistamines—cetirizine, desloratadine, fexofenadine, levocetirizine, and loratadine—don’t differ in any consistent way in terms of effectiveness, safety, or the side effects they cause.

    These medications all generally bring some relief in one to three hours but it is important to continually use them during the time you are exposed to the allergic trigger (e.g. pollen).  

    Table 1. Summary of Evidence on Antihistamines

    Generic Name

    (Brand names)

    Usual Adult Dose

    Proven Effective Against Hay Fever and

    Intermittent Allergies?1

    Proven Effective

    Against Year-round or

    Persistent Allergies?2

    Oral Medications

    Cetirizine

    (Zyrtec)

    10 mg once daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Desloratadine

    (Clarinex)

    5 mg once daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Fexofenadine

    (Allegra)

    60 mg once or twice daily, or 180 mg once daily

    Yes

    No3

    Levocetirizine

    (Xyzal)

    5 mg once daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Loratadine

    (Alavert, Claritin)

    10 mg once daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Nasal sprays

    Azelastine nasal spray/pump

    (Astelin, Astepro)

    One or two sprays per

    nostril twice daily

    Yes

    Yes

    Olopatadine nasal spray

    (Patanase)

    Two sprays per nostril

    twice daily

    Yes

    No

    1. Intermittent allergies are when symptoms last fewer than 4 days a week, or less than 4 weeks a year.

    2. Persistent allergies are symptoms are present more than 4 days a week and for more than 4 weeks a year.

    3. Sufficient evidence was not available for fexofenadine, although it is likely effective in treating year-round or persistent allergy symptoms.

    In studies comparing the newer antihistamines, 15 to 25 percent of people experienced at least one side effect. (See Table 2.)

    Drowsiness: The good news is that all of the newer antihistamines are less likely to cause sedation and drowsiness than older antihistamines. Specifically, studies indicate newer antihistamines cause drowsiness in fewer people than two older antihistamines, diphenhydramine and chlorpheniramine.

    For the newer antihistamines, other research has found that cetirizine and levocetirizine caused sedation in more people than loratadine and desloratadine. Some other evidence suggests that cetirizine causes sedation in more people than fexofenadine. One observational study found no difference in sedation rates between loratadine and fexofenadine.

    Good to know: Alcohol can exacerbate drowsiness, so skip drinking it while taking antihistamines. And use caution if driving or operating heavy or dangerous machinery while taking an antihistamine.

    Table 2. Side Effects

    Relatively minor—usually go away in time:

    More serious—these can be dangerous and should be reported to a health-care professional:

    ■ Drowsiness

    ■ Dry mouth, nose, or throat

    ■ Hoarseness

    ■ Headache

    ■ Dizziness

    ■ Nausea

    ■ Rapid or pounding heartbeat

    ■ Unusual weakness

    ■ Nervousness

    ■ Stomach pain

    ■ Yellowing of the skin

    ■ Difficulty urinating

    ■ Vision problems

    Rare side effects: In a very small number of people, antihistamines can cause more serious reactions, such as rapid heartbeat or heart palpitations. See a doctor if you experience such symptoms.

    Two second-generation antihistamines (terfenadine and astemizole) were removed from the market because they led to a higher risk of potentially serious heart problems. Some evidence suggests that there might be a very small risk of heart problems with currently available antihistamines. A large study found that cetirizine was associated with an increased risk of heart arrhythmias, but other analyses, including a large safety analysis by the FDA, found no increased risk. Other research, however, indicated that cetirizine, desloratadine, fexofenadine, and loratadine do not pose an increased risk of arrhythmias.

    Special note about nasal anithistamine sprays: Azelastine and olopatadine have been linked to changes in taste sensations, including bitterness and nasal discomfort. Olopatadine nasal spray has been linked to nose bleeding, sores in the nose, and holes in the nasal septum.  

    Drug interactions: Antihistamines can interact with other medicine or dietary supplements in ways that can be dangerous. Be sure to tell your doctor about all other medication you take, even if you think it might not be important. The main drugs to be concerned about are:

    • Antifungal medications, such as ketoconazole. They can increase the effect of some antihistamines.
    • Aspirin, which in large doses can cause ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a danger sign sometimes masked by antihistamines.
    • Certain types of fruit juice, such as grapefruit juice, apple juice, and orange juice. They might make some second-generation antihistamines less effective.
    • Any drugs known to change the way the heart beats, such as citalopram or ziprasidone. They should be used cautiously if you are taking antihistamines.
    • Medications used to improve breathing, such as theophylline. They may raise the risk of antihistamines side effects.
    • Certain antibiotics, such as erythromycin. They can increase the effects of antihistamines.
    • Antacids that contain aluminum or magnesium. When taken within 15 minutes of fexofenadine, these antacids significantly decreased the effect of that antihistamine.
    • The stomach acid reducer cimetidine, which increases the effect of azelastine nasal spray.

    If you take an antihistamine combined with a decongestant called pseudoephedrine, be aware that such products should be used with caution by people with high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, glaucoma, or prostate disease.

    People who take products that combine these drugs are more likely to have side effects, such as headaches and trouble sleeping.

    Children

    Cetirizine (Zyrtec), desloratadine (Clarinex), and levocetirizine (Xyzal) have been found to be safe and effective in children as young as six months old. Evidence on the safety and efficacy of loratadine (Claritin) is limited to children two years or older. Evidence for azelastine nasal spray, fexofenadine, and olopatadine nasal spray is limited to children six years or older.

    All seven second-generation antihistamines are approved for children. There is little research of good quality on how the second-generation antihistamines compare. Because of this, there is insufficient evidence to understand if any of the second-generation antihistamines are more effective at relieving allergy symptoms or pose greater safety concerns than the others. But overall, the medications are well-tolerated by children, with few kids stopping taking the medication because they have a problem with side effects.

    Children might experience drowsiness when taking antihistamines. This is especially important when it comes to teenagers who drive, because drowsiness can impede the ability to operate an automobile safely.

    If your child needs an antihistamine to treat hay fever or other respiratory symptoms due to allergies, we advise trying our Best Buy pick, loratadine, first. The available evidence finds loratadine is as effective as the other over-the-counter option, cetirizine, but it is less likely to cause sedation. One study in children found cetirizine and loratadine to be just as effective as first-generation antihistamines for relieving allergic rhinitis symptoms, and loratadine has been found to provide symptom relief at 5 mg to 10 mg daily. 

    Age, Race, and Gender Differences

    Not enough people older than 65 and people from various ethnic groups have been included in studies of antihistamines to know if the drugs affect them differently. There’s also insufficient evidence to determine if men and women respond to the drugs differently.

    People age 60 and older are more susceptible to the side effects of antihistamines, especially drowsiness. People older than 70 or so are at greater risk of falls in general, and antihistamine-induced drowsiness can raise that risk. The dosage of some second-generation antihistamines (primarily Zyrtec) should be reduced in older age and for people with kidney or liver problems.

    Important note for women who are pregnant: Though human studies have not been performed in pregnant women, animal studies have found that both nasal sprays can cause birth defects, so they should not be used by women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. Azelastine nasal spray caused birth defects in mouse, rabbit, and rat studies, and olopatadine nasal spray has been associated with adverse effects on fetuses in animal studies.

    Pregnant or nursing women should use the second-generation antihistamines only if their doctor agrees it’s absolutely necessary. And even then, it should be limited to the oral and liquid formulations— cetirizine, desloratadine, fexofenadine, levocetirizine, and loratadine. Animal studies indicate that those second-generation antihistamines don’t increase the risk of birth defects. No clinical trials have been done in pregnant women to test the birth defect risk in those drugs.

    The newer antihistamines are comparable in terms of how well they work and how safe they are, while none of them have a distinct advantage over the others. The main difference is how much they cost (see Table 3.) Prices range from about $11 dollars per month to more than $200.

    Taking effectiveness, safety, cost, and dosing convenience into account, we have selected the following antihistamines as Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs:

    • Cetirizine
    • Fexofenadine
    • Loratadine

    All are low-cost generic drugs available in various formulations (liquid, tablet, chewables, dissolving tablets) without a prescription in drug and food stores, and many small convenience stores. And all are as effective and safe as the other second-generation antihistamines.

    Some people may respond well to one antihistamine while getting no benefit from another. So if cetirizine, fexofenadine, or loratadine does not work for you, then try one of the other antihistamines.

    The monthly costs for our Best Buys vary considerably—see Table 3. That’s common for nonprescription drugs, so we urge you to shop around for the best price, especially if you need to take an antihistamine on a regular basis. You might want to check online as well to see which pharmacy chains offer the best prices on our Best Buys.

    In addition, some of these medications may cost as little as $4 for a month’s supply through discount generic drug programs run by major chain stores, such as Kroger, Sam’s Club, Target, and Walmart.

    For an even better bargain, if you take these drugs long-term, you may be able to get a three-month supply for as little as $10 through one of these programs. We note in the price chart starting below which antihistamines are available through the discount programs. Some stores, such as CVS and Walgreens, require a membership fee to participate and might charge higher prices. There might be other restrictions too, so check the details carefully to make sure your drug and dose are covered.

    Table 3. Comparing the antihistamines

    In addition to second generation antihistamines, several other medications are available. Our analysis did not include these treatments.

    Nasal steroid sprays: Experts often suggest that the best, first option for most people is steroid sprays, such as fluticasone propionate (Flonase), mometasone furoate (Nasonex), and triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort).

    Although a 2013 analysis by the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research found that the research comparing antihistamines and steroid sprays directly was not sufficient to show that steroid sprays are clearly superior. At the same time, other studies have found steroid sprays to be more effective. Our medical consulants say that the overall evidence suggest steroid sprays are likely better at relieving congestion and improving quality of life.  

    That said, if a steroid spray doesn’t provide enough relief or you can’t tolerate the side effects—they can cause nose bleeds, sores in the nose, and in rare cases, holes in the cartilage of your nose—a second-generation antihistamine taken with the spray can often help. And if your symptoms are limited to watery, itchy eyes, then you might only need anithistamine eye drops.

    Combination products: Most antihistamines, new and old, are also available in combination with a decongestant, such as pseudoephedrine. Those combination products are not included in this analysis, but decongestant products should be used with caution by people with high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, glaucoma, or prostate disease. Consult a doctor if you are not sure whether you should use a combination product.

    Allergy shots and other treatments: If you use any of these or have questions, consult your doctor.

    • Leukotriene blockers. There are three: montelukast (Singulair and generic); zafirlukast (Accolate); and zileuton (Zyflo)
    • Cromolyn sodium
    • Allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy
    • Antihistamine eye drops. These include products that contain only an antihistamine, such as olopatadine (Pataday), alcaftadine (Lastacaft), and ketotifen (available without a prescription), and combination products that contain both an antihistamine and a vasoconstricting agent, such as Naphcon-A, and Visine-A (naphazoline and pheniramine).

    Our evaluation is primarily based on independent scientific reviews of the evidence on the effectiveness, safety, and adverse effects of second-generation antihistamines from the Drug Effectiveness Review Project (2010) and from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2015). The full DERP report is available here. The AHRQ report can be found here. Overall, 3,121 studies and research articles were identified and screened. From these, the analysis focused on 18 studies that provided direct evidence of comparative effectiveness or safety.

    Prices for a drug can vary quite widely, even within a single city or town. The prices for prescription drugs in this report are national averages based on sales of the drugs in retail outlets. They reflect the retail cash price that would be paid for a month’s supply of each drug in April 2015. The prescription drug costs cited were obtained from a health-care information company, Symphony Health Solutions, which tracks sales of prescription drugs in the U.S. Symphony Health Solutions is not involved in Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs analysis or recommendations.

    Prices for nonprescription drugs were obtained from a nationwide sampling by Consumer Reports secret shoppers from four major chain pharmacies—CVS, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart (CVS  prices were excluded from the calculations for fexofenadine (Allegra and generic) due to lack of CVS generic price data).

    Consumer Reports selected the Best Buy Drugs using the following criteria. The drug (and dose) had to:

    ■ Be approved by the FDA for treating allergic rhinitis

    ■ Be as effective as any other second-generation antihistamine

    ■ Have a safety record equal to or better than other second-generation antihistamines

    ■ Have an average price for a 30-day supply that is substantially lower than the most costly second-generation antihistamine meeting the first two criteria.

    Bender BG, Berning S, Dudden R, Milgrom H, and Tran, Zung Vu.  Sedation and performance impairment of diphenhydramine and second-generation antihistamines: A meta-analysis.  J Allergy Clin Immunol.  2003;111:770-6.

    Benninger 2010 AAAI M, Farrar JR, Blaiss M, et al. Evaluating approved medications to treat allergic rhinitis in the United States: an evidence-based review of efficacy for nasal symptoms by class. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2010;104:13-29.

    Blackwell DL, Lucas JW, Clarke TC. Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(260). 2014.

    Bloom B, Jones LI, Freeman G. Summary health statistics for U.S. children: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(258). 2013.

    Carson S, Lee N, Thakurta S. Drug class review: Newer antihistamines. Update 2.  May, 2010.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0009327/pdf/TOC.pdf  Accessed May 20, 2015.

    Church MK, et al. Global Allergy and Asthma European Network. Risk of first-generation H(1)-antihistamines: a GA(2)LEN position paper. Allergy. 2010 Apr;65(4):459-66. doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2009.02325.x. Epub 2010 Feb 8.

    Compalati E, et al. Systematic Review on the Efficacy of Fexofenadine in Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trials.  Int Arch Allergy Immunol 2011;156(1):1–15.

    Glacy J, Putnam K, Godfrey S, Falzon L, Mauger B, Samson D, Aronson N. Treatments for Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis. Comparative Effectiveness Review No. 120. (Prepared by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association Technology Evaluation Center Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-2007-10058-I.) AHRQ Publication No. 13-EHC098-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; July 2013.www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/reports/final.cfm.

    Herbert Moskowitz, Ph.D. and Candace Jeavons Wilkinson, Ph.D.  ANTIHISTAMINES AND DRIVING-RELATED BEHAVIOR: A REVIEW OF THE EVIDENCE FOR IMPAIRMENT.  June, 2004.  DOT HS 809 714.  http://ntl.bts.gov/lib/26000/26000/26043/580-Antihistamines.pdf   Accessed May 20, 2015.

    Perttula A, et al. Second-generation antihistamines exhibit a protective effect on drivers in traffic-a preliminary population-based case-control study. Traffic Inj Prev. 2014;15(6):551-5. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2013.861597.

    Seidman MD, et al. Clinical practice guideline: Allergic rhinitis. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 Feb;152(1 Suppl):S1-43. doi: 10.1177/0194599814561600.

    Wheatley LM, Togias A. Clinical practice. Allergic rhinitis. N Engl J Med. 2015 Jan 29;372(5):456-63. doi: 10.1056/NEJMcp1412282.

    These materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    We take Apple CarPlay and Android Auto out to Starbucks

    Wouldn't it be nice if your car's infotainment system was as full-featured and easy-to-use as your phone? That's the appeal of Apple's CarPlay and Android Auto, which promise to bring familiar interfaces to your car's dashboard. Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher and Director of Content Development Glenn Derene go out to Starbucks in a Volkswagen Jetta equipped with an aftermarket Pioneer stereo that's compatible with both technologies. Think of it as "Product Testers in a Jetta Getting Coffee."

    Their spin shows that both interfaces have promise. Using the simplified onscreen displays and voice commands is less distracting than picking up and using your phone - but that's not the same as being distraction-free. Cloud-based points-of-interest search soundly trounces the dated databases found in built-in or portable navigation systems. And voice-activated texting proves to be simple with each system.

    Shortcomings aren't deal breakers, but they highlight the infancy of these systems. Each restricts you to a relatively small selection of car-friendly apps. For example, Android Auto lets you use the much-loved Google Maps, but that's out of the cards for CarPlay. Waze users will have to go cold turkey, or keep on using their phone as before. Going back and forth between smartphone-based functions (navigation, phone, music) and built-in car functions (AM/FM/satellite radio) requires popping back in and out of various interfaces.

    Ultimately, neither of these systems proves to be the Holy Grail for phone integration, yet. This is just the first iteration, and each system can be updated, just like your smartphone. When those updates come, Jake and Glenn just might have to go out together for another cup of joe.

    Also read:

    Tom Mutchler

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    2016 Cadillac ATS-V is a new breed of American muscle car

    When we tested the compact-size Cadillac ATS in 2013, we gave it a thumbs up for its agile handling and fun-to-drive character. It reminded us of a previous-generation BMW 3 Series, the car that practically wrote the sports-sedan recipe book.

    Of course, it was just a matter of time before the ATS headed into the Cadillac performance skunkworks. In a world with BMW's M division and Mercedes-Benz's in-house AMG boutique, not to mention the suffix-laden performance groups of nearly every other manufacturer, we all expected an ATS-V. And when it arrived at our doorstep, we liked what we saw. And felt. And heard.

    Needless to say, we’ve spent a couple of weeks enjoying the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V, which we rented from GM. Refreshingly, it's available with either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic, and in sedan and coupe body styles. Prices start at $61,460 for the sedan, $63,660 for the coupe. Power comes from a 3.6-liter, twin-turbo V6 rated at 464 horsepower. The sedan we sampled included the Track Performance Package and automatic, pushing the sticker price to just over $70,000.

    With its punchy performance, athletic moves, and invigorating sound, the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V always left a smile on our faces, whether whipping around our track or taking a discrete prowl in the country.

    If you didn’t know better, you'd swear a V8 lurked under the vented hood. The turbo V6 almost feels and sounds like a big eight, and the car launches as if shot from a cannon. Smooth, linear power flows effortlessly to the rear wheels with a deep, warm, and melodic soundtrack exiting from the dual exhaust. Selecting the Sport or Track modes enhances the aural pleasure, thanks to the “engine sound enhancement” coming into play with its more manly sound effects.

    The eight-speed automatic is a triumph, passing the baton from one ratio to the next seamlessly and quickly. You can choose between Tour, Sport, and Track modes, with each upping the ante in shift ferocity and throttle response. Track mode holds you in a lower gear, yet when it anticipates corners due to hard braking, it bangs off rapid-fire downshifts. It also allows some wheel spin and the stability control becomes a less-strict nanny, allowing for some play on the track. GM claims a 3.8-second 0-60 mph sprint. Even if the time proves to be in the low-4-second range, that would put the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V in Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911 territory, let alone the BMW M3/M4 or Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG.

    Read our BMW M3 and M4 first drive.

    Handling is nimble with pinpoint road carving and practically zero body roll in corners. The electric steering is quick and transmits some actual feedback, which is rare these days. Ride motions are quick and short but no impact is too objectionable. But don't think this is a sports-sedan bully that beats you up. It’s more civil than that; it is actually pretty easy on your bones and kidneys. Even the middle-aged men among us wouldn’t mind commuting in the ATS-V as a daily driver—and that speaks volumes. Noise isolation is quite decent, yet the music from the engine isn't dulled at all.

    The 2016 Cadillac ATS-V we sampled was swathed in grippy synthetic suede, including on the steering wheel and the deeply sculpted and firmly bolstered Recaro seats. One of our drivers found these optional buckets a bit restrictive, and for most people getting in and out of the low-slung sedan might take some acrobatics.

    The only universal complaint centered on the frustrating CUE infotainment system, which is overly dazzling and too distracting. Rather than intuitively seeing to your needs, it assaults and overloads your senses. And like the regular ATS sedan, the backseat is pretty tight even for occasional use.

    While it makes for great marketing to talk about being developed on the Nürburgring and having a racing pedigree, Cadillac realizes that credibility in high-performance sports-sedan circles comes by competing with the Germans on equal footing. That may take time and commitment . . . and there’s no guarantee it’ll happen. But the 2016 Cadillac ATS-V proves that a homegrown American can indeed play on the same straße as the Germans and give up nothing in muscle, agility, and finesse.

    Gabe Shenhar

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Do lightbulbs need a health warning label?

    Cigarettes and alcohol come with a health warning label—straightforward reminders of the hazards that may result from using the product. Now a lightbulb manufacturer is adding a health warning to its LED packaging. The new label, which will begin appearing on all Lighting Science LEDs in August, reads “Exposure to certain electric lights may cause biological effects, some potentially disruptive. Further details and protection information can be found at www.healthimpactoflight.com.” As warnings go, this one’s a bit vague and scary, so why add it?

    Almost as soon as the first electric lights were introduced, scientists, doctors, and sociologists expressed concern about its impact on human biology. (If you’re interested in reading further, check out “Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light” by Jane Brox.)

    Consumer Reports’ medical experts say that studies have shown that exposure to light at night is clearly associated with an increased risk of sleep problems as well as mood disorders. Additional research has linked light at night with an increased risk of breast cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, however, much more research remains to be done to determine just how significant that risk may be.

    So, why single out LEDs? LEDs do emit more blue light than CFLs, and incandescents emit very little. And while any light can suppress melatonin, the hormone that facilitates sleep, research has shown that human eyes are especially sensitive to blue (which is also emitted in higher levels by most of today’s indispensable electronic devices).

    Getting the message out

    Fred Maxik, founder and chief technology officer of Lighting Science, says that in contrast to the older incandescent bulbs, LEDs and CFLs have significantly changed the impact light has on human health, affecting our circadian rhythms. He believes the effects can be beneficial, such as promoting alertness or enabling natural sleep hormones to be released. But “there’s a growing amount of evidence that light can also have negative biological effects,” he says. And that’s why the company created the label. Maxik is also encouraging other lighting manufacturers to make consumers aware of the effects of light on health.

    Lighting Science has hired former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Louis W. Sullivan, M.D., as a consultant. “The fact is that the wrong kind of light can be disruptive on sleep patterns,” he says. “I think this label gives interesting information to the public so they can decide, particularly for people with sleep problems.” Lighting Science’s healthimpactoflight.com—mentioned in the warning—offers health information and functions as a marketing tool by including links to purchase some of the company’s specialty LEDs, such as the $60 Good Night bulb, which we found does have significantly lower blue light levels than other LEDs we’ve tested. For our tests results, read "LED lightbulbs that promise to help you sleep."

    Whether consumers start seeing similar voluntary warning labels popping up on other brands remains to be seen, according to Terry McGowan, director of engineering and a spokesman for the American Lighting Association. “Information reporting on light and human health research is certainly helpful to consumers,” he says. “It’s likely that each company will interpret the research and the performance of their products in different ways, so they will choose different ways to provide the information.”

    What you can do

    Our medical experts say to minimize your exposure to all sources of blue light a few hours before turning in by shutting off smart phones, TVs, and other electronics. The blue light in the backlit screens of electronic devices fools the brain into thinking it’s daytime. And the smaller the screen, the closer you hold it to your eyes, which concentrates the light.

    And for that bedside lamp? Choose an LED that casts a warmer color, and less blue, around 2700 Kelvin. You’ll see light color noted on the Lighting Facts Label on the LED package, and our lightbulb Ratings will tell you too.  For more advice check out “Secrets to a better night’s sleep” by Consumer Reports’ health experts. It’s a great bedtime story.

    Kimberly Janeway

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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  • 06/15/15--09:14: Shred it or save it?
  • Shred it or save it?

    Shredding documents is no longer a matter of efficient trash removal; it’s a vital security strategy for every person. Shredding sensitive papers is a powerful shield against identity theft.

    But gleefully reducing all of your old files into confetti isn’t so smart. While certain documents can be spaghetti-ed immediately (think: credit card and utility bills), others have more extended “shred by” dates—bank statements, for example, should be kept for one year unless needed for tax filing, while you should hold onto tax records for seven years. Receipts for large purchases and service contracts should be saved until you sell or discard the item.

    Which raises another riddle: How do you keep track of what to shred and what to save?

    While shredding can help protect you from identity theft, it's also a useful way to get rid of excess paper. Read "Spring-Clean Your Finances."

    Thankfully, a handy infographic from the Federal Trade Commission provides a color-coordinated list that simplifies the issue. Printed in a size that can be conveniently taped to your shredder, it lists what can get tossed in the machine’s maw immediately; what should be saved for a year; what you can shred after seven years; which documents can be left to your discretion; and which should be locked in a safe place and preserved throughout your life. The full list can be downloaded for free from the FTC's website.

    Catherine Fredman

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. Copyright © 2006-2015 Consumers Union of U.S.

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    Can anti-aging smart drugs boost your brainpower?

    Age may bring wisdom, but we all want to feel youthful in mind and body. Our quest to keep age-related physical and cognitive changes at bay— has created a huge anti-aging industry—reportedly worth about $292 billion worldwide this year—one that includes drugs to boost cognition.

    Although the prospect of slowing the clock is tantalizing, evidence suggests that there’s no anti-aging magic bullet yet. And according to our experts, some strategies are not only ineffective but also hazardous.

    “Going to an anti-aging clinic might accelerate aging,” says Thomas T. Perls, M.D., director of the New England Centenarian Study and a professor at Boston University and the Boston Medical Center. Here's the lowdown on what some refer to as "smart" drugs.

    Read more about vitamins and supplements, including dangerous supplements and dietary supplement safety.

    Proponents say that these drugs—some of them prescription-only, others sold over the counter or online­—can improve memory, focus, and attention. One group of “smart drugs,” collectively called nootropics, includes supplements containing such ingredients as caffeine, fish oil, herbals, and piracetam, which isn’t ­approved in the U.S. but is prescribed in the United Kingdom for movement disorders. The other main group of smart drugs includes the ADHD prescription medications methylphenidate (Ritalin and generic), and amphetamine and dexamphetamine (Adderall and generic); narcolepsy and sleep-apnea drug modafinil (Provigil and generic); and Alzheimer’s drug donepezil (Aricept and generic).

    Bottom line: There’s limited evidence that nootropics improve cognition. And some may cause side effects or interact with medicine you’re already taking. In addition, what’s on a container’s label might not reflect what’s inside unless the supplement has been verified by a group such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia. “There can be tremendous variability among manufacturers,” says Gary W. Small, M.D., director of the UCLA Longevity Center.

    It’s legal for doctors to prescribe smart drugs for off-label use (one not approved by the Food and Drug Administration). But they don’t help enhance cognition in everyone and might worsen it in some, according to the American Academy of Neurology. And there are no long-term studies on how those drugs may affect healthy people, says Orly Avitzur, M.D., a neurologist and medical adviser to Consumer Reports.

    —Catherine Winters

    This article also appeared in the June 2015 issue of Consumer Reports on Health.

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