Do you take OTC medicines? Know your risks and prevention methods

Did you recently have a headache or a runny nose and you popped up a pill from the medicine box at home? It’s nothing strange and many of us depend on the readily available OTC medicines for quick relief. Especially, for headache, stomachache, allergies, cold & flu, nausea, constipation, and the like, we tend to use over-the-counter medicines more often. There is no prescription required to buy these medicines from the pharmacy which paves our way directly to the medicine store, rather than to a doctor’s clinic. 

Though, these OTC medicines are safe to use, there are conditions when they can go wrong and show adverse effects. The unpleasant effects of OTC medicines become apparent in the following ways:

1. Medicine side effects: These are the common unpleasant properties of some medicines. A few usual side effects are nausea, dizziness, sleepiness, and rare bleeding in the digestive tract. Some side effects are even helpful, for instance, antihistamines which causes sleepiness as the side effect, if taken at night time can help induce the sleep and give rest to the person. You should be well aware of the side effects of any medicine before taking that.    

2. Drug to drug interaction: It happens when you are on more than one medication. It can be two or more OTC medicines, one prescription and one OTC medicine or even two prescription medicines prescribed by two different doctors. The major types of drug-drug interaction include.

  • Duplication: It is when the two different medicines have same active ingredient. It can give an overdose of medicine to your body and can be harmful for the liver and the kidneys. 
  • Opposition: It is when the two different medicines have counter ingredients giving opposing effects to your body. It will reduce the effectiveness of one or both medicines. 
  • Alteration: It is when one medicine alters the way another medicine is absorbed and processed in the body. One common example is aspirin which changes the way blood-thinning medicines work on our body.

Word of caution: If you are visiting more than one doctor for any body ailment or disease, do discuss your current medications for sure. Even if you are taking any food supplement, herbal supplement, or vitamins, let your doctor know about them. 

3. Drug to food interaction: Sometimes what you eat can alter the way an ingredient in the medicine works on your body. This is called drug-food interaction. It can prevent the way a medicine should have worked for you. Medicines and foods are taken orally and are absorbed through the lining of the stomach. When you are asked not to take a medicine with food, you should not. Similarly, many medicines are prescribed to be taken with food, one hour before or after food or in empty stomach. All these instructions make sense as they affect the absorption of the medicine and its benefits. 

Certain fruits, caffeine, alcohol, beverages, and dairy products interact with medicines. You must discuss your dietary habits with the doctor at the time of consultation. Read the drug labels carefully or ask your doctor as how to take the medicine to avoid any opposing food-drug interaction. 

4. Allergic reactions:  It is not much common, but sometimes people are allergic to certain medicines which reflects as allergies. Common allergic reactions are itching, hives, redness on skin, and breathing trouble. If you notice any of these after taking any medicines, you must meet your doctor immediately.

It means, while the medicines can have their own side effects, they can also show unpleasant effects by interacting with other medicines or foods. It is always better to know the risks before taking OTC medicines so that you can have some preventive measures in place.

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Tips for healthy OTC drug administration

  • Try to reduce the frequent usage of OTC medicines.
  • If you are any prescription medicine, do not take OTC medicine on your own.
  • Read the drug facts carefully. Know well about the ingredients and the warning signs.
  • Get to know the side effects as well. If you don’t understand anything, ask your doctor.
  • Always use correct measuring device to take the right dose of the medicine.
  • Don’t mix any medicine with food, milk or any other eatable or drinkable unless advised by the doctor. It can be hazardous.
  • Don’t take medicine and alcohol together or immediately one after another.
  • Keep track of allergic reactions or any other unusual outcomes after taking the medicine. Reach out to doctor in such cases.

A medicine well taken in the past can also have some adverse reactions in the future. So, always be vigilant about your response to a medicine for your health and safety. However, it is always advised to keep in touch with a doctor while administering any medicine and OTC drug use should be limited.

In case of young children, elderly and people with critical medical conditions, self-medication through OTC drugs is never advised. Shortcuts in case of health can cost your well-being. So, be cautious and be safe!