Many people assume that over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are safe, maybe even safer than drugs that require a prescription. Just because they are available over the counter does not mean they are risk free. It is important to be aware of the active ingredients and potential side effect before taking the drug. Most people do not read all of the information on OTC drug labels.
Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol, the most commonly used OTC medication. It is deadly if not used within the dosage limits, and it can cause liver damage if too much is taken as a daily dose. Alcohol consumption while taking acetaminophen increases the risk of kidney damage. Serious skin reactions are also possible. NAC, N-acetyl cysteine, is an antidote for acetaminophen toxicity.
Laxatives are the most misused OTC drug. Many laxatives include sodium phosphate, which if taken in excess can lead to dehydration and abnormal electrolyte levels in the blood. Because it is possible for the body to become dependent on laxatives, they should be avoided and used only as a last resort. It can be tempting to take sleeping pills to help with sleep problems. However, many of them are addictive and some types lose their effectiveness over time. This tempts people to increase their dose.
Many people also feel the need to take something to relieve their heartburn. OTC heartburn drugs do not address the problem. They only temporarily treat the problem, and they can have potentially serious side effects. Heavily medicated people who take multiple prescription drugs also tend to take OTC drugs. Combining OTC drugs with prescription drugs can be dangerous.