The pharmacy aisle can feel like a jungle these days—especially when you’re weeding through pill bottles with watery eyes and Kleenex attached to your face. But just because you’ve got access to every med under the sun doesn’t mean they’re all benign to your body. (In fact, they all come with risks, especially if you’re taking other prescription medications.) We spoke with pharmacist ;Maria M. Mantione, director of the doctor of pharmacy program at St. John’s University, about five easy-access pills that deserve an extra warning.
1. Multi-Symptom Products Cold, cough, and flu combo meds are tempting to buy—odds are there’s something in there that’ll nix your problem, right? Unfortunately for the lazy, it’s a lot safer to isolate your symptoms and treat them one by one, even if it requires some extra label reading. “Most women usually don’t have all five ailments on the bottle, and any medication with multiple ingredients is going to put you at a greater risk for overdosing or interactions,” says Mantione. For example, most multi-symptom meds contain acetaminophen as one of the main ingredients to treat fevers, sore throats, and the like. But popping Tylenol (also acetaminophen) ;on top of that can cause you to exceed the daily limit for the drug, which can lead to liver damage or even death.
3. Antacids Swigging some Mylanta after overindulging in a cheesy pizza is no big deal. Neither is taking a 2-week course of Prevacid to clear up more frequent heartburn. But Mantione says a number of antacid users take the drugs for longer than recommended on the label without supervision. “Some people take them every day for months on end to treat acid reflux, but if you’re not being monitored by a doctor, the drugs could be covering up a more serious condition,” she says. (It’s rare, but years of heartburn could lead to cancer of the esophagus.)
4. Antihistamines The newer forms of daily allergy meds (like Claritin or Zyrtec) are generally pretty safe, but old-school antihistamines like Benadryl (generic name: diphenhydramine) come with some potent side effects (think: drowsiness, confusion, dizziness) and shouldn’t be used during the day or while driving. Diphenhydramine (an ingredient in Tylenol PM and other OTCs) can also enhance the effects of other drugs like muscle relaxants, sleep aids, or anxiety medications, so clear everything with your pharmacist before taking it.
5. Pseudoephedrine This congestion-buster, found behind the pharmacy counter in medications like Sudafed, can usually bring quick and sweet relief to clogged nasal passages. But it comes with a risk of side effects like an increased heart rate, nervousness, and insomnia. Pseudoephedrine can also interact with some blood pressure meds and other stimulants like caffeine, so talk with a doc or pharmacist (especially if you’re pregnant, have high blood pressure, or have other heart conditions) before bringing this one home.
The article “5 Over-the-Counter Drugs You Definitely Don’t Want to Pop Like Candy” originally ran on WomensHealthMag.com.