How to Choose the Right OTC Pain Reliever This Cold and Flu Season

Natural medicine concept of capsules in palm of hand: The OTC medicine that used to be right for you may no longer be the safest choice.
© (iStockPhoto)The OTC medicine that used to be right for you may no longer be the safest choice.
Research suggests 1 in 5 people don't consider any key safety factors when choosing an OTC medicine. Cough. Fever. Congestion. Sore throat. Headache. Sneezing. Over the past 17 years as a family physician, I have seen thousands of patients suffering from typical cold and flu symptoms this time of year – and they all need relief. An estimated 7 in 10 consumers turn to over-the-counter medicines for help, but many of them don't realize their go-to OTC medicines could be putting them at risk for more serious health complications. When a cold or flu strikes, patients may turn to more than one OTC medicine to relieve symptoms without recognizing that many cough and cold medicines contain more than one active ingredient – and often include an ingredient for pain relief such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Pain, pain, go away.: Which pain reliever is best? The short answer: Your Guide to Over-the-Counter Pain ReliefI advise my patients to read and follow the Drug Facts label on OTC medicines that they choose for cold and flu, and to be aware of all active ingredients, directions and warnings to avoid unwanted side effects or complications. For example, taking more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen at a time can cause an overdose that can harm your liver. And taking a medicine that contains a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium may increase the risk of severe stomach bleeding if you have certain medical conditions or take certain medicines. This advice holds true for OTC pain relievers, as well. Many of my patients reach for these during cough and cold season – whether it's to treat a headache from congestion or sinus pressure or to help relieve cold-related aches and pains. They may then reach for a cold medicine to relieve their congestion, runny nose or cough. Remember that the active ingredients in OTC cold and flu medicines may also be in your OTC pain relievers. That's why it's important to check the ingredients in all your medicines so you don't risk a potentially dangerous overdose. In addition to the risk of double-dosing, new research has found that many adults fail to consider that the OTC medicine that was right for them in the past may not be the best choice for them now.Current health conditions, age and other medicines can change how an OTC affects you. For example, adults over the age of 60 may have an increased risk of stomach bleeding when using ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. If you haven't thought about these factors lately, you're not alone: 1 in 5 people don't consider any key safety factors when choosing an OTC pain reliever, according to a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Pain Foundation with support from McNeil Consumer Healthcare. Two in 3 Americans (65 percent) do not consider other OTC medicines they are taking, and nearly half – 45 percent – do not consider the prescription medicines they are taking when choosing an OTC pain reliever. Part of the problem is that many people don't consider OTC medicines to be what they are – medicines. They are generally safe and effective when used as directed, but just like any medicine, they do come with potential risks. When choosingan OTC medicine, whether it's a cold and flu medicine or a pain reliever, it's important to remember:
  • OTC medicines are not interchangeable, and certain types may not be appropriate for everyone. What was right for you in the past may not be the best choice for you now. Factors like age, current health conditions and other medicines you're taking can affect the risk associated with certain OTC medicines.
  • Always read and follow the label to be sure to take the right dose of your OTC medicine. Take only the amount directed on the label.
  • Take only one medicine at a time with the same kind of active ingredient.
Still have questions? You can check out reputable sources online – such as or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for information to help you make the right decisions about your OTC medicines. You can also always ask your pharmacist or physician for guidance.
Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

source : U.S. News & World Report - Health (

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