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Your local drugstore offers many over-the-counter (OTC) medications to help you when you are not feeling well. Most are intended to treat short-term health problems or symptoms that are troublesome. Many of us believe that if you can buy it over the counter, it's harmless. Nothing could be further from the truth.

OTC drugs are just that; drugs. Just like the prescription medications you get from your doctor; OTC drugs can be abused, misused and interact with other medications.

Most OTC drugs fall within these categories:
· Pain Relievers
· Allergy and Cold Medication
· Antacids and Laxatives
· Diet Aids

Each category has numerous drugs and each drug has potential side effects and interaction risks. This guide is intended to alert you to some of the potential dangers. It’s not intended to replace the advice of a physician.

Pain Relievers: Never exceed the recommended dosage and do not use these drugs for more than 10 days without consulting a physician. Prolonged or excessive use can result in serious liver or kidney damage. These drugs can also cause or aggravate stomach upset and ulcer. (Except acetaminophen)

· Acetaminophen – is used for pain relief and as a fever reducer. Those who drink 3 or more alcoholic drinks per day should consult a physician before using this drug.
· Aspirin - is used for relief of pain, swelling, fever and sometimes as an anticoagulant (blood thinner). Persons with bleeding disorders or those taking anticoagulants should never use aspirin. Aspirin should not be used by those under the age of 20 as it’s associated with the rare but potentially fatal Reyes Syndrome. Excessive or prolonged use of this drug can result in tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Discontinue use and call a physician if this occurs.
· Naproxen Sodium - is used for the treatment of pain and inflammation associated with arthritis type conditions. Other uses include treatment of menstrual pain, sprains, tendonitis and other pain from injury. Fluid retention (edema) can result from use of this drug. This edema can aggravate existing hypertension or cause high blood pressure. Persons with a history of cardioedema should not use this drug without consulting a physician.
· Ibuprofen – Common uses of this drug are the same as for Naproxen, above. Though this drug is not the same as Naproxen, the same warnings should be observed.

Allergy and Cold Medications - Do not exceed the recommended dosages and do not use beyond ten days without consulting a physician.

· Antihistamines –Antihistamines sold without prescription will make most people drowsy. Those with narrow angle glaucoma, interocular pressure, hypertension, hyperthyroidism, respiratory disease including asthma or cardiovascular disease should consult a physician before taking these kinds of medications. Never use alcohol or other tranquillizers or sleeping medications while taking antihistamines, excess sedation can occur.
· Decongestants – Those with hyper- or hypotension, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, seizure disorders, interocular pressure or glaucoma, diabetes or prostate disease should consult a physician before using any decongestants. Pseudoephedrine can cause excitability and insomnia.
· Cough Syrups - Cough syrups are formulated to treat one or several symptoms. When choosing a cough syrup, select one that will treat only the symptoms you have. It's best to consult the pharmacist when choosing a syrup. Considerations in choosing should include whether the product contains alcohol, the patient's age and symptoms, any allergies or health problems the patient has and how long the patient has had the cough. Cough syrups commonly contain combinations of antihistamines, decongestants, expectorants and pain and fever relievers. Considerable caution should be used in selecting a syrup since so many drugs can be present in them.

Antacids and Laxatives: Never exceed the recommended dose or the maximum daily dose. If symptoms persist, consult a physician as heartburn and constipation can indicate several diseases and conditions.

· Liquid and Chewable Tablet Antacids - There are three basic types of antacids; magnesium hydroxide based, calcium carbonate based and aluminum hydroxide based. Individual products may contain two or more of these active ingredients. All three active ingredients are potentially poisonous. Read directions carefully.
· Antacids in Pill Form – (Tagamet, Pepcid and Zantac) There are a handful of OTC drugs in pill form that treat heartburn. Each has a different active ingredient however, they all perform the same basic function; they prevent the production of acid. Until recently, these were prescription medications. These drugs have a low incidence of side effects and drug interaction. Read the label carefully.
· Laxatives - There are three basic types of laxatives available over the counter; bulk formers (fiber based), saline types using magnesium, phosphate or potassium salts, and stimulants of various sorts. Each of these products differs in the form they take; liquid, pill, chewable tablet or suppository; and in the ways they act. Each product has different side effects and potential for drug interaction. It's best to consult with your physician before you need a product of this sort and determine which kind may be best for you. Read the directions carefully. Each of these types of laxatives can cause serious health problems when used incorrectly or inappropriately.

Diet Aids: You should not use these kinds of aids without consulting your physician. Read all labels and package inserts carefully and use products only as directed.

· Diet Aids - Most OTC diet aids fall within two categories; stimulant based and bulk based appetite suppressants. With stimulant based products, most of the drugs use either phenylpropanolamine, caffeine or ephedrine or a combination as their active ingredients.

Phenylpropanolamine, ephedrine and caffeine can cause problems with people who suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, vascular disease and seizure disorders. Both chemicals can interact with a variety of medications. Never exceed the recommended dosages or maximum time limits for use. Be particularly alert for possible side effects that can indicate a serious problem; headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, loss of consciousness, heart palpitations, excessive sweating, ringing in the ears, rapid pulse, shallow breathing or difficulty breathing.

Bulk or fiber based diet aids act to suppress the appetite by making you feel full. Some bulk type products contain guar gum as their fiber source. This has caused intestinal blockage in some users. Overall, bulk type products have a low incidence of drug interaction. They can produce uncomfortable side effects like diarrhea, gas, bloating and flatulence.