Did you know that in the US, over 300,000 drug products are available over the counter? That means you can purchase them without a valid doctor’s prescription. You can even buy them outside of pharmacies, such as grocery stores and gas stations.
It’s that easy to buy OTC drugs because they usually have a lower risk profile than prescription ones. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no risk to taking an OTC medicine. In fact, no drug doesn’t have a risk or doesn’t cause a side effect.
One such safety risk of using OTC drugs is their potential drug-to-drug interaction. A DDI can happen if you take certain medications simultaneously.
So, before you start taking over-the-counter meds, it’s best to learn about common DDIs. We listed some of the top ones in this guide, so be sure to keep reading.
Aspirin and Ibuprofen
Close to 30 million people in the US aged 40 and older take aspirin every day to prevent heart disease. On top of that are six million other Americans who use it without a doctor’s recommendation. That makes aspirin one of the most commonly used OTC drugs in the country.
One reason for the wide use of aspirin is its pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory effects. After all, it’s a class of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). It’s also an analgesic, which means it helps relieve pain and reduce fever.
Aspirin has blood-thinning effects, too, which is why it may help prevent blood clots.
Like aspirin, ibuprofen also belongs to the NSAID class of drugs. As such, its effects are similar to aspirin. However, they also have the same side effects, such as abdominal pain and upset stomach.
Aspirin and ibuprofen can both cause allergic reactions, too, such as hives and rashes. Both can also lead to blisters, wheezing, skin redness, or even severe facial swelling.
For those reasons, taking aspirin and ibuprofen together can lead to dangerous interactions. For example, you may experience more intense side effects as a result of mixing these two.
Aspirin and Other NSAIDs
Combining aspirin and ibuprofen can also raise your risk of bleeding. However, experts say that the risks are higher if you mix aspirin and other NSAIDs, such as naproxen. Other riskier NSAIDs are diclofenac, piroxicam, and indomethacin.
Taking aspirin and another NSAID together may also compromise aspirin’s effects. For example, a study looked at how this mix can affect patients who had total joint arthroplasty. The researchers discovered that aspirin became less effective in preventing venous thrombosis.
Antacids and Aspirin
Antacids are OTC drugs that help manage the symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn. For example, they help ease the discomfort or pain caused by these conditions. They can do so by neutralizing the acids irritating the esophagus or stomach.
Tums, which contains calcium carbonate, is one of the most popular brands of antacids. Gaviscon, the main ingredient of which is alginic acid, is another. Alka-Seltzer, which features sodium bicarbonate, is also effective against acid reflux and heartburn.
Despite antacids’ efficacy and safety, you should still avoid taking them with aspirin. That’s because antacids can reduce the effectiveness of aspirin.
If you take the two together, you may feel as if aspirin isn’t working at all. This may then lead to you thinking you need to take more. If you do, it can put you at risk of an aspirin overdose.
It does take a lot of aspirin to overdose, but it can be dangerous if it happens. It can either cause rapid or labored breathing, wheezing, and blurred vision. Moreover, it can induce headaches, unsteadiness, seizures, and fainting.
Antihistamines and Cough Relievers
Some antihistamines are non-prescription drugs that reduce or block histamines. Histamines, in turn, are chemicals produced by the body in response to an allergen.
As for allergens, these are substances that a person with an allergy can have an allergic reaction to. Some of the best examples of allergens are pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and ragweed.
Antihistamines are some of the most common OTC drugs, as over 50 million people in the US have allergies. These medicines can be life-savers, as some allergy attacks can be so severe they come with a risk of death.
However, the drawback to anti-allergy medications is that they can induce drowsiness.
Likewise, many cough relievers you can buy over the counter can cause sleepiness. One example is dextromethorphan, which tells the brain to cease its cough reflex. It’s effective, yes, but it can also cause you to feel drowsy or sleepy.
For that reason, taking antihistamines with dextromethorphan can amplify drowsiness. This may be fine if you’re ready to go to bed, but not if you have to drive. Keep in mind that drowsy driving kills hundreds of people each year; in fact, it claimed 697 lives in 2019 alone.
Antihistamines and Muscle Relaxants
Anti-allergies and muscle relaxants can also be risky drug combinations. That’s because muscle relaxants can often cause drowsiness and dizziness. As such, taking the two together can make you feel even sleepier.
If you need to take both but want to remain alert and focused, go for a non-drowse antihistamine. These anti-allergy drugs are less likely to make you feel sleepy or sedated. Like the drowsy kind, you can buy these over the counter from a pharmacy, grocery, or convenience store.
Phenylephrine is a common ingredient in OTC nasal decongestants like Advil and Vicks. It helps relieve congested (stuffy) nasal passages caused by common colds.
The problem is that phenylephrine is present in many other OTC medications. For example, antihistamines and cough and cold drugs may also contain this ingredient.
Taking too much phenylephrine can cause severe dizziness and excessive drowsiness. In some cases, it can even induce fainting. These are side effects you never want to experience, especially not if you’re driving.
Stay on the Safe Side When Taking OTC Medicine
OTC medicine overdoses and DDIs may be less common than prescription drugs. However, they can still be life-threatening, or at the very least, cause pain and discomfort.
That’s why it’s imperative to use them as directed or recommended by your doctor. Last, don’t forget to check their potential drug-to-drug interactions.
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