Health Information

OTC Meds and Work: Not Always a Great Combination

Some common over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can cause serious side effects. These side effects can put your health at risk and interfere with your everyday activities.

Some of these side effects can be felt or sensed by you, but not by others. Side effects you can usually feel are:

  • Dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Double vision

  • Headache

  • Vertigo

Those you may not feel are:

  • Confusion

  • Depression

  • Slow reactions

Any of these side effects can weaken or change your:

  • Perception

  • Attention

  • Judgment

They can be especially dangerous if your job requires you to be sharp and focused.

Safety and productivity

The type of work you do and your workplace have an impact on any side effects. For example, someone who has to keep an eye on gauges in a control room may feel drowsy after taking antihistamines, but someone who does active physical work may not.

Things that affect your work space, such as heat, humidity, cold, or exposure to chemicals may change how certain medications work. Someone working in a hot and humid environment will sweat a lot. This can lead to dehydration and changes in your body chemistry. This can change the way a drug works.

Consider your workplace

Experts say that patients and doctors need to pay attention to things in your workplace that could make medication side effects worse.

OTC allergy remedies (antihistamines) are good examples of the kinds of drugs can affect your activities. These drugs include: 

  • Diphenhydramine

  • Chlorpheniramine

  • Brompheniramine

  • Doxylamine

  • Cetirizine

  • Triprolidine

  • Loratadine

Many traditional antihistamines cause side effects you can feel, such as sleepiness. They also bring on effects you might not notice These include:

  • Difficulty making decisions

  • Slowed reaction times

  • Poor coordination

  • Difficulty understanding, learning, and remembering

It's important for you to be sharp and focused while operating machinery, computers, or driving. The effects of these drugs can make these activities troublesome and often dangerous.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist about other kinds of medications that won't make you so sleepy and don't cause the same side effects.

Always check with your employer about any rules about medicines in your workplace.  

Other medications that can get in the way of your daily activities are:

  • OTC decongestants

  • Stimulant laxatives

  • OTC sleep aids

  • Heart burn remedies

  • "Stay awake or alert pills" 

What you can do

Read the warnings on all medication packages and instructions. Don't think that OTC medications are safe and won't cause dangerous side effects.

Ask your pharmacist to check if the OTC medication will react with any other medications you are taking. Antihistamines and cold and allergy medications may cause problems with other medications you are taking.

Always follow package directions when taking medications.

Don't use alcohol when taking medications. Alcohol can worsen the negative effects of many medications and can make you very drowsy when combined with antihistamines.