Flu vaccines are available. Get the details here >>

Updated 2023-2024 Moderna COVID-19 monovalent vaccines are available to patients. Go here for more information >>

“Over the counter” doesn’t mean “OK to overuse”

Advice from our pharmacy team

It’s easy to develop a false sense of security when using over-the-counter medicines. Since they’re widely available without a prescription, we assume that it’s safe to take a little extra now and then, or to use them longer than directed. But those assumptions can be harmful. When taken in excess or for too long, many non-prescription medicines pose similar safety risks to prescription drugs. Following are seven examples.

Seven over-the-counter meds that you shouldn’t overuse
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol): taking more than advised can lead to liver problems and is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the U.S.
  • NSAIDS (ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen): overuse can increase your risk for bleeding problems and stomach ulcers.
  • Dextromethorphan (found in many cough suppressants): overuse and abuse can cause brain damage, seizures and irregular heartbeat.
  • Loperamide (Imodium): taking too much of this anti-diarrheal can cause opioid-like breathing changes and sedation, as well as heart arrhythmias.
  • Afrin and other nasal sprays containing oxymetazoline: using these for more than 3-5 days in a row can make congestion worse, not better.
  • Caffeine pills: overuse can cause cardiac issues, including high blood pressure and pulse, as well as sleeping problems.
  • Sleep aids: many over-the-counter sleep aids contain diphenhydramine and other antihistamines that can be unsafe for elderly patients, increasing risk for confusion, falls, dry mouth and constipation.

For your safety, read the labels on all medications, checking the maximum dosage and duration, and take them only as directed. If you need more to relieve your symptoms, talk to your provider first. And be careful with multisymptom remedies, which may contain ingredients that you’re already taking.

Some meds might not be right for you at any dose

Not every over-the-counter remedy is safe or right for everyone. If you rely on one regularly to control pain, diarrhea or other symptoms, talk to your provider— there may be an underlying issue that should be addressed. If you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, always consult your provider before taking anything.

In fact, talking to your health care provider first is good advice for everyone to prevent drug interactions with your current prescriptions or conditions. Alongside your provider, your local pharmacist is always a great resource if you have questions.

Visit our blog to learn more about risky drug interactions.