Overmedicating On Over-the-Counter Drugs

Cut through the OTC clutter, so you avoid confusion and complications this cold season.

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| November 2nd, 2011

Myth #2: More medicine gets you better faster.

When you over-medicate and combine ingredients, you can actually suppress your ability to get well faster. Too much cough medicine around cold season may prolong your symptoms.

“Cold symptoms actually have a use. Coughing is the body's way to get rid of gunk in your lungs,” YouBeauty founder Michael Roizen, M.D. says. “When you take cough medicine to suppress your cough reflex, the bacteria can gain hold in lungs.  Real problems come when you overdo it and don't clear your lungs out,” Dr. Roizen adds.

By suppressing your immune system with too much codeine (the primary ingredient in cough medicine), you dampen your body’s ability to fight infection faster. “There's a just-right, bell-shaped curve you want to hit, so you suppress symptoms and negative inflammation, but not your ability to get better,” Dr. Roizen says. 

 VIDEO: The Downside of Too Many Pain Pills

Moral of the story: That cough medicine will keep you (and everyone around you) from suffering, but knocking yourself out on the highest dose won’t do your body any favors.

Myth #3: Fevers and pain should get the same dose of ibuprofen as for inflammation, like arthritis.

Ibuprofen is a NSAID that hit U.S. stores in 1974. Lower doses are for pain/fever while inflammation requires a higher dose. Specifically, your fever would need 200-400mg of ibuprofen, every 4-6 hours. Pompei advises starting with the lowest dose, and then upping the dose as you monitor your response.

“Generally speaking, analgesia is achieved at a dose of 400mg. Taking doses in excess of that increases the potential for adverse events, but may not necessarily provide additional pain relief,” Pompei says. “Imagine it this way: The body is 'maxed out' at a dose of 400mg, but will find some mischief for idle milligrams to do,” he adds. For pain relief, you definitely shouldn’t exceed 1200mg a day unless directed by a physician.

Chronic inflammation (like arthritis) may require a higher dose, between 400-800mg, every 4-6 hours. Patients should always start at 400mg and shouldn’t increase the dose unless directed by a physician. Talk to your physician if you have an underlying inflammatory disease that you may already be taking anti-inflammatory medicine for. (For chronic inflammatory conditions, the maximum daily dose goes up to 3200 mg per day.)

MORE: Guide to Alternative Medicine

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