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To help patients become wise consumers of over-the-counter (OTC) medications, the National Council on Patient Information and Education, based in Washington, DC, suggests you provide them with the following guidelines:
• Read the label before buying or taking any OTC medicine, even those you have taken before. Drug labels may change as the manufacturer learns new information about the product.
• Follow the directions on the label. Take only the dose recommended, and take it only as often as directed. In case of emergency situations described on the label, see your doctor.
• Measure liquid medicines carefully, using proper measuring spoons or caps.
• Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on which OTC products to use for your symptoms because many OTCs contain several ingredients to treat different problems.
• Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you should avoid using any OTCs because of a medical condition (high blood pressure, thyroid disease, etc.)
• Do not use laxatives when you have stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting.
• Do not use OTCs that may interact with your prescription medications before checking with your doctor or pharmacist. Some common interactions include:
aspirin: prescription blood thinners, and chemotherapy drugs.
OTC medicines to help you sleep: prescription sedatives or tranquilizers.
OTC cough/cold medicines or weight- control products that contain phenylpropanolamine (PPA): prescription drugs for high blood pressure or depression.
Nasal decongestants (sprays, tablets, capsules, or liquid): prescription drugs for high blood pressure or depression.
• Do not use OTCs that can make your medical problems worse. For example, if you have heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, or prostate problems, you should not use products that contain phenylpropanolamine (in cough/cold and diet aid products) or nasal decongestants. People with asthma should not use some cough/cold products.
• Do not use products after their expiration date. OTC medicines can break down and/or lose their effectiveness over time.
[Editor’s note: For more information on OTC medications and other drug related education, contact: National Council on Patient Information and Education, Suite 810, 666 Eleventh Street,NW, Washington DC 20001. Telephone: (202) 347-6711. Fax: (202) 638-0773.]