April 2014

Over the Counter Medications Fact vs. Fiction

Just because a medication is over the counter (OTC), and not a prescription medication, does not mean that it is safe for everyone or that it can be combined with all other medications. It is important to read the entire label to see all of the ingredients in the medication and to see what other conditions that you have that the medication may interfere with. It is important to let your doctor and pharmacist know what OTC medications you may be taking. Here are some facts about OTC medications to help prevent complications. This is certainly not a comprehensive analysis of all OTC meds and their possible risks or interactions, but rather, serves as a general guideline.

1.  Tylenol is safe for everyone.  FALSE

While Tylenol (Acetaminophen) is a great medication for headaches, other pains, and to reduce fevers, it is NOT for everyone. Individuals with liver disease should avoid Tylenol. Also, Acetaminophen is found in many cold remedies, so be sure to read the label of all cold medications to make sure you are not already taking this. Acetaminophen is also in many prescription pain medications such as Percocet, so make sure you read any prescription medications or ask your doctor or the pharmacist before adding Tylenol (acetaminophen.)


2.  Aleve is better than Advil on my stomach since it is just twice a day. FALSE

Both Aleve (Naprosyn) and Advil/Motrin (Ibuprofen) are in the class of medications called NSAIDs (Non-steroidal- Anti-inflammatory drugs.) While these do work well for fevers and aches, they can irritate the stomach or cause serious stomach problems in some patients. Patients with kidney disease or impaired kidney function should avoid these medications. They can also increase blood pressure.


3.  Avoid Aspirin in children and teens. TRUE

Children and teens should NEVER take aspirin if they have a cold, flu, or chicken pox. They can develop a rare condition called Reye’s syndrome that can cause serious long term complications or be fatal.


4.  All cold medications are the same. FALSE

Decongestants can help with nasal congestion, but can elevate blood pressure and cause side effects in patients with prostate problems.

Decongestant nasal sprays should not be used for more than three days.

Guaifenesin can help loosen mucous; drink plenty of water to help this work.

Dextromethorphan helps to suppress a cough.

Many of these medications are found alone but often times are found in combinations. Make sure to just take a cold medication that treats the symptoms you have and does not interfere with other medications or health conditions that you have.


5.  There is a difference among over the counter allergy medications. TRUE

Medications with Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can be effective for allergy symptoms, but can cause drowsiness. They can interfere with your ability to work and drive safely.

Other antihistamines with less sedation include: Loratadine (Claritin, Alavert), Fexofenadine (Allegra), and cetirizine (Zyrtec).



Always read the label before taking an over the counter medication. If you are not sure what you can safely take for your symptoms, please ask. Remember to always let your doctor know what medications and supplements you are taking, both prescription and over the counter.