Since getting over the counter medicine has never been easier, over the counter medicine safety should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. From the GI relief of the PPI’s to the cold remedies of antihistamines, the choices are endless. But these self-prescribed options need to be used with caution and care. Many symptoms we often experience can be a sign of something more serious. A little Tylenol for headaches or Zantac for heartburn or Zyrtec for alleriges may seem innocent enough. However, being vigilant with your body’s responses to these medications can prevent catastrophic outcomes.
If your symptoms are new or different from previous times, or you have never used an OTC medicine before, it is worth putting in a call to your doctor for advice. Many of these medications have interactions with prescription medications. So only use them if no other options exist.
First and foremost, find out what is the actual CAUSE of your symptoms. Don’t merely medicate them. Identify the trigger and begin to remedy that cause. Medications temporarily bandage the immediate issues, not always fix the root problem.
I have known many patients to use OTC meds on a daily basis “just because” or “that’s how they have always done it.” Just because you don’t need a doctor’s authorization to purchase these drugs, doesn’t mean they don’t come without the same risk as prescription meds.
Here are some staggering OTC Statistics:
- Approximately 5 BILLION OTC drugs are purchased annually.
- This number accounts for 60% of all health-related drug purchases.
- Teenagers are 18 times more likely to fatally overdose on OTC medications than illicit street drugs.
- 40% of US teens think OTC medicines are safer than illegal drugs.
- Almost one-third of American teenagers think that it is perfectly safe to occasionally abuse OTC drugs.
According to Consumer Med Safety, here are the top 5 most commonly abused OTC medications:
This is an active ingredient in more than 100 OTC cough and cold medicines. Side effects include impaired judgment, vomiting, loss of muscle movement, seizures, blurred vision, drowsiness, shallow breathing, and a fast heart rate. Dextromethorphan is also addictive and can cause withdrawal symptoms, including depression and difficulty processing thoughts, when the drug is stopped.
OTC caffeine pills such as NoDoz or pain relievers with caffeine have been abused for the buzz or jolt of energy they seem to provide. If these pills are taken with high caffeine energy drinks, the effects are felt even quicker. Large doses of caffeine can cause serious dehydration, gastric reflux disease, panic attacks, and heart irregularities that have occasionally been linked to accidental deaths, particularly in those with an underlying heart condition.
- Diet Pills:
Although the FDA has banned several of the most dangerous stimulants commonly found in OTC diet pills—phenylpropanolamine, ephedrine, and ephedra—other ingredients in these OTC products can also be dangerous. Bitter orange is a common ingredient that acts much like ephedrine in the body. It can cause nervousness and tremor, rapid and irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, and death. The FDA ban on ephedra pertained only to diet pills considered dietary supplements, not herbal remedies such as teas and Chinese preparations.
- Laxatives/Herbal Supplements:
Laxatives and herbal diuretics (including uva ursi, goldenseal, dandelion root, rose hips) can cause serious dehydration and life-threatening loss of important minerals and salts that regulate the amount of water in the body, acidity of the blood, and muscle function.
This nasal decongestant and stimulant is found in many cold medicines. Its similarity to amphetamines has made it sought after to make the illegal drug methamphetamine. This medicine has also been taken as a stimulant to cause an excitable, hyperactive feeling. Abuse may be less common with pseudoephedrine than with other OTC medicines due to a federal law requiring it to be kept behind the pharmacy counter, limiting the purchase quantity, and requiring photo identification prior to purchase. However, people have taken pseudoephedrine to lose weight, and athletes have misused the medicine to increase their state of awareness and to get them “pumped up” before a competition. Dangerous side effects include heart palpitations, irregular heartbeats, and heart attacks. When combined with other drugs, such as narcotics, pseudoephedrine may trigger episodes of paranoid psychosis.
No doubt that having medications available to us at the 11th hour has certainly made life easier. But as prescription drugs continue to become readily available on shelves throughout the world, we must err on the side to be even more diligent and mindful of its risks. Due to the ease of accessibility of these meds, we must remain guarded to prevent overuse and abuse.
Dr. Raman’s Concierge Medical Practice is focused on holistic care and good health maintenance. For more information on natural ways to relieve stress, CONTACT our office today to schedule your appointment. You can learn more by following Dr. Raman on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.