Date: July 1st, 2007
Over-the-counter medications can be an effective and relatively inexpensive way to reduce pain, get a good night’s sleep, and be more productive. But because they’re available easily without a prescription, many people may mistakenly believe that taking them contains no risk.
It’s true that over-the-counter medications are generally safe when taken as directed. But it’s important for everyone – especially older people, who may be taking multiple medications - both over-the-counter and prescription - to understand how to manage all of their medications and take them safely.
Keep an eye on active ingredients
According to a recent survey sponsored jointly by the Alliance for Aging Research and the Consumer Health Education Center, 30 percent of older Americans use two to four over-the-counter medications over the course of a month. They also take an average of three prescription medications each month.
This level of medication use is the factor that puts people most at risk when taking over-the-counter medications. Taking more than one medication, prescription or nonprescription, at a time exposes you to risks from drug interactions, and from side effects that result from taking too much of one particular active ingredient – the ingredients that make medicine work.
The study of 1,000 60- to 75-year-olds indicated that most (75 percent) felt confident that they knew the proper dosage of the medicines they were taking. However, when asked specific questions about other precautions they take with their over-the-counter medications, those surveyed became less confident.
Around two-thirds of respondents indicated that they understand the labels on the packaging and know how long they should continue to take over-the-counter medications. But only about half said they knew which over-the-counter medications should not be taken either with certain prescription medications (52 percent) or other over-the-counter medications (45 percent).
Labels help you make informed decisions
Fortunately, this is an area where you can make a definitive impact on your health with decisions you make on a daily basis.
Most of the information you need to manage your medications safely is right on the medications’ labels. The labels give usage instructions such as dosage and length of time the medicine can safely be taken. They also list the active ingredients and tell you how much of them you’re taking with each dose.
The Consumer Health Education Center offers these tips for effectively and safely managing your over-the-counter medications:
Always read and follow the Drug Facts label.
Never take more than one drug with the same active ingredient unless instructed by a doctor.
Choose products that treat only the symptoms you have.
Talk to a doctor if taking an over-the-counter medication does not take care of your symptoms or becomes more than temporary.
Create a list of all the medicines you take and share your list with your healthcare professionals.
In addition, be sure your health care professionals know about your full medical history and your current diet. And always feel free to ask any questions you have of your doctors, nurses, pharmacists, or any other health care professionals.
For more information, visit:
- Alliance for aging Research: National Campaign to Help Older Americans Manage Medicines
- Consumer Health Education Center: Drug Facts for Mature Americans