6 OTC Drugs That Can Be Dangerous for Older Adults

6 OTC Medicine That Can Be Harmful for Older Adults


Key Takeaways

  • Older adults have greater dangers and charges of negative effects from OTC medicine than youthful individuals as a result of our bodies turn into extra delicate to medicine over time. 
  • OTC medicine will not be essentially any much less potent than pharmaceuticals.
  • Take a look at substances on OTC drug packaging to make sure one other product you’re taking doesn’t include the identical energetic ingredient. 

A latest overview of over two dozen research discovered that folks aged 60 and older rely extra closely on over-the-counter (OTC) medicine than youthful adults, typically with out realizing that they arrive with well being dangers and negative effects. 

The overview, printed within the journal Cureus, discovered that older adults depend on OTC medicine for quite a lot of causes: 

  • They’ve used them earlier than and belief the merchandise they’re aware of
  • There’s no want for a physician’s go to for a prescription
  • OTC medicine are sometimes extra inexpensive than pharmaceuticals
  • The medicine are sometimes really useful by docs, pals, and household

The commonest well being causes for taking the medicine, in line with the overview, had been headache, belly ache, cough, joint ache, and fever. The primary illness cited by individuals was a headache, and probably the most generally used nonprescription medicine had been ache relievers.

Researchers additionally discovered that “seniors usually tend to expertise adverse medicine responses than youthful individuals.” This may increasingly pose a difficulty if and after they want look after these reactions: A 2013 FDA seminar on OTC drugs and older adults discovered that whereas 86% of individuals stated they routinely used OTC medicine, solely about half advised their docs. 

Why Are Older Adults Extra Delicate to Medicine?

Our bodies deal with medicines otherwise as they age, Hedva Barenholtz Levy PharmD, a geriatric pharmacist, advised Verywell. For some, which means a lower in kidney and liver operate, which might decelerate the velocity at which medicine depart the physique. The result’s elevated negative effects.

“Basically, older adults are extra delicate to the results of medicines, each good and dangerous. Which means that typically decrease doses will probably be efficient for older adults, and so they have a larger probability of experiencing antagonistic results,” Barenholtz Levy stated.

Whereas sufferers could view OTC medicine as much less dangerous than pharmaceuticals, “OTC medicine are distinguished from pharmaceuticals solely in that they’re outlined as secure and efficient to be used by the general public with no doctor’s prescription; they don’t seem to be much less potent or inherently safer than prescription medicines,” Steven Albert, PhD, chair of the Division of Behavioral and Group Well being Sciences on the College of Pittsburgh College of Public Well being, advised Verywell.

Because of this, Albert suspects unintentional misuse of nonprescription medicine could also be at play amongst many older adults. As a result of merchandise are marketed towards symptom aid relatively than energetic substances, individuals could not understand that two OTC medicines—say, one for cough and one for congestion—include the identical energetic ingredient.

“In the event that they use two merchandise, they danger an unintentional overdose,” Albert stated.

The chance of drug interactions and negative effects is even larger among the many many older adults who take pharmaceuticals.

“OTC would be the solely department of medication the place we count on individuals to decide on therapies, determine when to begin and cease, and interpret [effectiveness] on their very own,” Albert stated. “We’d like higher client training, extra involvement of physicians and pharmacists in OTC consults, and higher packaging of the merchandise themselves. It could be invaluable to contemplate age-friendly aisles in pharmacies by which OTC merchandise are vetted and pharmacy consults are extra simply out there.”

Prime OTC Drugs to Take With Warning

Ache Relievers

Medicine known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) embody Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), and aspirin. All of them could cause ulcers and abdomen bleeding. That’s particularly regarding when you take blood thinners, or you probably have uncontrolled diabetes or hypertension, Barenholtz Levy stated. Lengthy-term use could cause coronary heart and kidney issues. Ask your physician if Tylenol (acetaminophen) is a safer alternative, however learn the label about how a lot to take and the way typically. Lengthy-term use of acetaminophen could cause liver issues. You also needs to examine the label for steerage on limiting alcohol whereas on acetaminophen. The mixture could cause organ failure. 

Frequent and long-term use of any ache relievers pose dangers, says Kathryn Boling, MD, a household doctor at Mercy Medical Heart in Baltimore. As a substitute, your physician can refer you to a ache specialist for non-medicine choices, comparable to a bodily therapist.

And whereas each day aspirin was lengthy suggested to stop coronary heart assaults and strokes, latest steerage says individuals who haven’t had a stroke or coronary heart assault mustn’t take each day aspirin. In the event you’ve had a stroke or coronary heart assault, talk about the professionals and cons of taking each day aspirin along with your physician.

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) 

Whereas it’s effective to maintain Benadryl available to deal with occasional gentle allergic reactions, it shouldn’t be taken as a sleep assist, Boling advised Verywell.

In response to Albert, many different sleep aids available on the market include diphenhydramine. Use them below physician’s orders and just for the size of time the physician advises. Lengthy-term use can result in cognition points, confusion, and reminiscence loss.


Pseudoephedrine is the energetic ingredient within the decongestant Sudafed Sinus Congestion 24 Hour and in lots of generic decongestants. It could possibly improve blood stress.

Phenylephrine is present in widespread medicine, together with Sudafed PE, Benadryl Allergy Plus Congestion, Vicks Sinex, Mucinex, Dayquil, Tylenol Sinus, and Advil Sinus Congestion.

A greater various is a decongestant particularly made for individuals with hypertension, comparable to Coricidin HBP Chest Congestion and Cough (dextromethorphan and guaifenesin), Barenholtz Levy stated.

Boling stated that even when you take blood stress medicine and your blood stress is below management, decongestants can improve your BP ranges, which is why it’s essential to ask the pharmacist for assist selecting a safer choice. In the event you’re shopping for on-line, select an internet pharmacy with pharmacists on employees so you possibly can ask questions on all of the medicines, together with prescription and nonprescription medicine you’re taking. Males with an enlarged prostate ought to avoid pseudoephedrine to keep away from worsening urinary points.

A drug that’s just like pseudoephedrine, known as phenylephrine, has been decided to be ineffective, so toss it out when you nonetheless have it at dwelling. An alternate that Barenholtz Levy recommends is a decongestant nasal spray comparable to Afrin (oxymetazoline), which stays within the nostril as an alternative of touring to the bloodstream. Cease utilizing it after three days to keep away from a return of stuffiness. Flonase (fluticasone) and Rhinocort (budesonide) additionally deal with congestion however can improve eye stress in individuals with glaucoma.

Heartburn Drugs

OTC medicine like Prilosec (omeprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole), and Prevacid (lansoprazole) are used to cut back abdomen acid and deal with heartburn. They’re meant for short-term use, however individuals typically keep on them for months or years, Boling stated. The priority with the medicine is that they will intervene with calcium absorption and result in bone fractures. They will additionally trigger diarrhea and pneumonia.

Milk of Magnesia and Magnesium Citrate

These are well-known nonprescription medicine typically really useful to deal with constipation. They pose a danger of negative effects in individuals with kidney issues, particularly in the event that they’re used long-term, Barenholtz Levy stated. If constipation is an issue, drink extra water, eat extra fiber, and get each day train. Attain out to your physician about prescription or nonprescription choices you possibly can attempt if life-style cures aren’t working for you. A stool softener could assist.


Over-the-counter Oxytrol (oxybutynin) might be efficient for girls with overactive bladders. (For males, the drugs nonetheless requires a prescription.) Nonetheless, it will probably trigger negative effects like dizziness, dry mouth, and constipation. Barenholtz Levy notes extra medicine are typically wanted to deal with the negative effects. Earlier than attempting medicine, ask your physician for data on Kegel workouts that may strengthen your pelvic ground.

What This Means For You

Regardless that OTC medicine are bought with no prescription, they include medicine and may include dangers. If you’re utilizing a brand new OTC for the primary time, ask the pharmacist if it interacts with any of the prescribed drugs you’re taking. In the event you begin a brand new prescription drug, ask if it interacts with any of the OTC medicine you’re taking. 

If the look forward to the pharmacist within the retailer or on the cellphone is simply too lengthy, you possibly can name the Nationwide Poison Management Heart at 1-800-222-1222. The middle is staffed by nurses, pharmacists, and physicians.

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