We live in a self-prescribing society where many of us like to self-diagnose our symptoms and treat them with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. According to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), without OTC drugs, approximately 60 million Americans would not seek treatment for their illness.
The CHPA also estimates that U.S. households spend about $338 a year on OTC products. Although OTC medicine is convenient and easy to use, many people may not know about the potentially dangerous side effects that can result in using such medicines.
How well do you know the OTC products in your medicine cabinet?
- Pain Relievers
If you check out any “must have in your medicine cabinet” list, pain relievers usually make the top of the list. An OTC pain reliever is either ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen (Aleve).
Although these types of pain relievers seem less dangerous than pain medication prescribed by a doctor, they can cause an increase in blood pressure, kidney damage, and gastrointestinal issues. Always talk with your doctor before taking a seemingly harmless pain reliever.
- Cold Medicine
Although there’s no tried and true cure to getting rid of a cold, many people rely on cold medicine that often contains acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, doxylamine, and pseudoephedrine.
One of the biggest dangers of OTC cold medicine is simply failing to read or follow the directions. Cold medicines should never be mixed with other pain relievers, like acetaminophen, because one could end up taking more than the daily dose without knowing.
- Vitamins and Herbal Supplements
Vitamins and herbal supplements are a great way to fill in any “gaps” that may be missing from your diet. Some supplements are designed to be a “safer” remedy for similar medications. It’s important to note that most vitamins and herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA.
Many people who take these kinds of OTC products have little knowledge on the ingredients and may mix them with other OTC medications; the results can be dangerous. Take the supplement St. John’s Wort (for anxiety) and cold medicine. Mixing the two have been known to have a fatal outcome.
Some individuals take laxatives to help stay regular, and while this seemingly safe OTC drug is used by young and old alike, it can cause dehydration and kidney issues due to improper dosing.
Considerations Before Taking
While there are hundreds of OTC drugs that are safe and effective, it’s always important to know what you are taking before you try to treat any symptoms. Dangerous side effects are more likely to occur when people don’t read the directions and don’t give or take the proper dosage.
Additionally, some adverse effects happen because people don’t know enough about their health, such as allergies, blood pressure, or any underlying issues. Even if you would rather take OTC drugs than prescription medications, it’s a good idea to have a check-up with your doctor and always tell him or her what OTC medicines you take.