If you’ve ever suffered through a bad cold, you understand the desire to load your shopping cart with a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) medications in the hopes that your symptoms will be relieved quickly. But OTC pain relievers and fever reducers can be harmful if not enough attention is paid to the dosage instructions and warnings printed on the Drug Facts labels.
While easily obtained at stores, OTC medicines are powerful and can impact your body and interact with other drugs in potentially harmful ways—especially if you have specific conditions or are already taking certain meds. For example, if you have asthma or high blood pressure, you should avoid nasal decongestants because you might experience adverse reactions.
Misuse of OTC drugs leads to thousands of hospitalizations a year. Here are some pointers to stay safe.
Keep it simple. Only choose an OTC medicine for your specific problem. For example, if you only have a cough, don’t choose a multisymptom formula.
Never combine drugs having the same active ingredient without your healthcare provider’s permission. If you are taking more than one OTC or prescription drug, note the active ingredients, which are always the first items listed on the label. Active ingredients are the chemical compounds that work with your body to provide symptom relief. The most common are: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and aspirin. Too much of any one ingredient can lead to serious health problems.
Keep kids safe. Do not give cough or cold products to children under two unless directed to do so by a doctor. Do not give children adult medications. Cutting adult-strength medicines in half or guessing at the correct dosage can lead to an overdose. With a children’s or pediatric formula, use the measuring device that comes in the package. Kitchen spoons and utensils vary in size and are not accurate ways to dispense medicine.
A child’s weight is the best way to determine the correct dosage. Make sure your scale at home is accurate, so you can check your child’s weight before administering medications.
Don’t use expired medicines. Discard expired medications on a routine basis. Make sure children and animals cannot get into the trash.