Risks of Combining Cough Medicine & Antihistamines

Common over-the-counter medications like cough suppressants and antihistamines are generally thought to be perfectly safe – and if taken as directed, they usually are. However, even common seemingly simple drugs like these can have a long list of potentially dangerous interactions with other substances, from herbal supplements to strong prescription opioids.

This article will discuss the risks of combining common over-the-counter drugs.

Combining Cough Medicine and Antihistamines

Cough medicine and antihistamines are two of the most commonly purchased over-the-counter medications available. Illnesses that cause coughing like colds and the flu are passed around constantly among the public, and allergies to airborne substances like pet dander and plant pollen are very common afflictions.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illnesses in the United States. People with allergies need antihistamines to make it through the day, especially during peak allergy seasons.

Health Risks of Mixing Antihistamines and Cough Medicine

One problem with over-the-counter medications is that one bottle can contain multiple different substances, some of which can be easily overlooked. If people don’t take the time to look through the warnings every time they purchase one of these medications, they can end up putting themselves at risk.

Some antihistamines come with painkiller or decongestant ingredients to combat multiple allergy symptoms. If a person who purchases this kind of medication doesn’t pay attention and takes additional painkillers or decongestants on top of it, this can cause a dangerous situation. If both of the painkillers are of the acetaminophen variety, an individual could overdose and end up causing damage to the liver. Ibuprofen overdoses can cause stomach bleeding and intestinal damage.

Many cough medicines also contain painkillers and decongestants. It’s very important to read the bottle before taking an over-the-counter medication, even if you think you’ve taken it before. Companies often release new varieties of their medicines that contain new elements to be more effective, and these added ingredients could interact with other substances you may be taking. Mixing cough medicine and alcohol can potentially be very dangerous.

When it comes to cough medicines, there are special risks to consider if the drug contains codeine. Codeine is an opioid used to treat pain, diarrhea, and coughing, and it is therefore a popular ingredient in cough medicine. Because opioid use can cause a euphoric feeling, cough syrup containing codeine became very popular for misuse until the government began to regulate it more strictly, requiring it to be kept behind the pharmacy counter and tracking how much each individual shopper purchases.

Side effects of codeine include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision
  • Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Appetite changes
  • Headache
  • Itching
  • Insomnia
  • Blurred vision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast, irregular, or weak pulse

Many of these side effects can interfere with people’s ability to operate heavy machinery such as vehicles.

How to Prevent Mixing Over-the-Counter Drugs

When you’re sick with a cold or chronic allergies, it may feel like you’d try anything to stop feeling unwell. However, combining over-the-counter medications can have serious health consequences. Some tips to avoid mixing OTC medications include:

  • Read the labels. Even familiar brands change formulas from time-to-time. Check the warning labels on medications you may purchase.
  • Talk to the pharmacist. Pharmacists aren’t just knowledgeable about prescription medications, but are an invaluable resource about side effects and drug interactions.
  • Talk to your doctor. Your physician will be able to confirm that your medications — even over-the-counter ones — are safe to use with other drugs.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs. To avoid a potentially lethal combination of interactions, if you’re taking cough medicine or antihistamines it’s better to avoid alcohol for the time being.

Addiction Treatment Options in Las Vegas

If you’re concerned about your use of over-the-counter medications — or drugs or alcohol — and feel like you need help, reach out to our admissions navigators at 24/7. They can answer your questions about addiction and point you in the direction of helpful resources.

When you’re ready to start treatment for a substance use disorder, our navigators can also walk you through the admissions process at our inpatient rehab in Las Vegas, help you decide which level of addiction treatment is right for you, and discuss your payment options for rehab — including using your insurance for addiction treatment.

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