Over-the-counter medications are not risk-free
When colds, flus and allergies hit, many people automatically turn to over-the-counter medications to push through and treat their symptoms. These include decongestants, painkillers, cough or allergy medicines and combinations thereof. Nearly 70% of adults in the U.S. use over-the-counter medications as a first-line response for treating cold and flu symptoms.
Although these medications are easily accessible and widely used, it might come as a surprise to many people to learn that they are not risk-free.
The dangers of mixing medications
When two or more drugs are used together, their interactions can sometimes produce unexpected harmful effects. Pharmacists and physicians are typically knowledgeable about potential drug interactions, so it is very important for patients to ask their health care providers which over-the-counter medications are safe for them to use.
It is important to read the package ingredients of over-the-counter medications closely to avoid duplication of doses.
Each person responds to drugs differently
In addition to the potential for drug-drug interactions or other adverse effects, these medications can affect certain people differently and may increase the risk of harm depending on a person’s characteristics and age group.
Some drugs can be dangerous for people who have particular health conditions.
While everyone could potentially experience adverse effects from cold and flu medications, some groups – including older adults, children and pregnant women – may be at greater risk.
Alternatives for children
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend giving cold medications to children under age 4. However, there are some safer alternatives.
Research has shown that honey can be helpful for reducing cold and flu symptoms in children older than age 1.
Nasal saline and certain creams and ointments containing the soothing compounds camphor, menthol or eucalyptus oils can sometimes be effective at reducing cough, congestion and sleep difficulties.
Pregnancy best practices
Some of the components commonly used in cold medicines are not recommended during pregnancy, as they can put not only the mother at risk but also the fetus.
For symptoms such as nasal congestion during pregnancy, a decongestant called oxymetazoline in its intranasal form is the drug of choice. But it is also critically important to use this drug as recommended by a physician.
For your safety, always ask your pharmacist or health care provider about the risks and dangers of taking multiple medications at the same time.