Over-the-counter medications: Know your risks and reduce them

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Over-the-counter medications are those that you can buy at the store. You do not need a prescription from your doctor. They help you feel better by treating or preventing common health problems. These may include allergies, constipation, cold and flu, or nausea. But sometimes over-the-counter medications can cause undesirable effects. These are called adverse effects. These include:

  • side effects
  • Drug interactions
  • Interactions between medicines and food
  • allergic reactions

It is best to know the risks of over-the-counter medications to know how to avoid them.

Side effects

Side effects are effects that medications have on your body that do not help your symptoms. Most side effects are undesirable. Some examples are nausea, dizziness or bleeding in the digestive tract. Sometimes, side effects can be useful. For example, certain antihistamines may cause drowsiness. This could be bad for people who take antihistamines during the day. But if you take an antihistamine at night, this side effect may help you get what you need. Side effects are not the same as true allergies to medications. Those are much less common.

Drug interactions

The body processes each medicine differently. When medications are used together, the ways in which they affect the body can change. This is called drug interaction. It happens whether they are prescription or over-the-counter medications. It can increase the chance that you will have side effects from the medications you are taking. The main types of interaction are:

  • Duplication:  This is when you take 2 medications that have similar active ingredients. You can give more medications than you need. An example is when you take over-the-counter ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) plus a prescription anti-inflammatory drug. Too much anti-inflammatory or analgesic can damage the kidneys or the liver.
  • Opposition (antagonism): Medications with active ingredients that have opposite effects on your body can interact. This can reduce the effectiveness of one or both medications. For example, over-the-counter decongestants can raise your blood pressure. This may work against medications that lower your blood pressure.
  • Disruption:  A medication can change the way your body absorbs, spreads, or processes another medication. For example, aspirin can change the way some prescribed anticoagulant medications work.

If you see more than one doctor, tell each of them about the medications you take. Do this even if you take something for a short time. Include any supplements of herbs, vitamins and minerals that you take. Once a year, take all your medications and supplements with you when you visit your doctor. You should also do this if your medications change at any time.

Interactions between medicines and food

Foods can change the way your body processes some over-the-counter or prescription hope medications. This is called an interaction between medications and foods (or between medications and nutrients). Sometimes, what you eat and drink may affect the ingredients of a medication you are taking. This can prevent the medication from working as it should. For example, medications that are taken by mouth are usually absorbed through the lining of the stomach. The nutrients in the food you eat are also absorbed in this way. If you take a medication with food but the instructions say that you should not, your body may not be able to absorb the medication in the right way.

Food does not affect all over-the-counter medications. But what you eat and when you eat it does matter with some medications. This is the reason why some medications should be taken on an empty stomach. That means 1 hour before or 2 hours after eating. At the same time, some medications are processed better when you take them with food.

Carefully read the medication information label. See if you should take your medication with food or on an empty stomach. If the label does not give specific instructions, it probably does not matter when you take it. If you have any questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist. They can also warn you about possible interactions with your prescription medications.

Allergic reactions

It is not common, but some people are allergic to certain medications. Signs of an allergic reaction include itching, hives, and trouble breathing. If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medication, avoid medicines that contain the same ingredients. Call your doctor immediately if you think you are having an allergic reaction. Keep in mind that the side effects are not true allergic reactions.

The road to better health

Certain situations put you at greater risk of adverse effects. Possible side effects differ from one over-the-counter medication to another. Therefore, it is better to read the information label of the over-the-counter medications carefully. Then he will know what to expect.

Here are some more tips to help you avoid the adverse effects.

  • Try to limit how often you take over-the-counter medications. Do not take unless you really need it.
  • If you take prescription medications, consult your doctor before taking an over-the-counter medication.
  • Carefully read the medication information label. Be sure you know what ingredients the medication contains. Also make sure you understand any warning or possible adverse effect.
  • If you do not understand something about the medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Take the medication as directed by your doctor or the medication information label. Do not take a higher dose of the medication than recommended. Do not take the medication more often than the label says. Do not take it for a longer period of time than recommended.
  • When administering medications to children, use the correct measuring device to make sure they get the correct amount. This could be a spoon made to measure the medication, or a syringe or cup.
  • Do not separate capsules or add medication to your food unless your doctor tells you it is okay. This can change the way the medication works.
  • Do not take medications with alcoholic beverages.
  • Do not mix medications in hot beverages unless the label says so. The heat can prevent the medication from working as it should.
  • Do not take vitamin pills at the same time you take medication. Vitamins and minerals can cause problems if they are taken with some medications.
  • Keep track of allergies and adverse reactions you have had with over-the-counter medications in the past. Avoid medicines that contain the same ingredients.
  • Check the information labels on medications and avoid taking medicines containing the same active ingredients at the same time. This can help you avoid taking too much medication.
  • Remember that even if you took a medication in the past without problems, you might still have a reaction when you take it now.