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Think twice before you take over-the-counter cold/flu medicine, warns pharmacist

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Summary

Certain cold and flu medicine ingredients can have harmful side effects, if you are taking prescription medications

Decongestant ingredients can raise heart rate and blood pressure

TORONTO (NEWS 1130) – We are in the thick of an especially bad flu season right now, but before you reach for your go-to medication, make sure you know what you’re taking when you reach for some of those common, over-the-counter remedies.

“There are certain precautions that people need to be aware of,” says Sherry Torkos, a pharmacist who has also authored several health-related books.

“When it comes to treating cold and flu symptoms, a lot of people come into the pharmacy and they’re looking at the package just in terms of ‘Ok, I’ve got cough, cold, congestion — this is what I want.’ They don’t always read the package.”

And that can have some unintended consequences.

“Antihistamine ingredients can worsen dry eyes, dry nose, dry mouth,” explains Torkos.

And other side effects can be more harmful.

“The decongestant ingredient in some of these products can raise heart rate [and] blood pressure. It can interact with prescription medications,” she says.

“Acetaminophen, which is Tylenol, is added into a lot of combination formulas. And when it’s combined with other products that may be taken — like if somebody has arthritis and they’re taking Tylenol Arthritis and then they’re taking an over-the-counter remedy, that has acetaminophen in it — that could potentially be hard on the liver. It can actually be much worse as well, if they are combining those remedies with alcohol or other medications that are hard on the liver such as cholesterol-lowering drugs.”

Torkos adds it’s always a good idea to talk to the pharmacist before buying anything, which is especially true if you’re already taking prescription medication.

She says another common misconception is that “over-the-counter drugs, they only help with the symptoms, they don’t actually help to speed heeling or shorten the duration of an infection.”

If you want to actually shorten the amount of time you’re fighting a cold or the flu, she recommends considering nutritional supplements or making changes to your diet.