Many Americans take several medications every day.
But Boston 25 News found many of those popular medicines are only meant to be taken for a short time and could be doing more harm than good.
Pharmacists say using some non-prescription drugs long-term can render them ineffective or dangerous.
“It's easy to just keep taking the over the counter medications to put a band-aid on those symptoms,” said Mass General Hospital pharmacist Sarah O’Neill.
MORE HARM THAN GOOD?
Certain nasal decongestant sprays fall into that category.
“If you take it longer than the three days it will actually cause this rebound congestion,” O’Neill told Boston 25 News. In other words, after three days, the nasal spray will cause the very symptom it's intended to relieve.
O’Neill says an alternative for longer-term use is a nasal spray containing steroids.
READ THE DIRECTIONS
The directions on the box of over-the-counter drugs are FDA-approved based on safety and effectiveness and are important to read.
On the back of the box of the popular heartburn medication omeprazole, it recommends not taking the medication for more than 14 days, and no more than every 4 months.
But many take a powerful medication every day.
Omeprazole suppresses stomach acid to heal ulcers, but with long-term use, it can alter the absorption of vitamin B12 and iron.... affect bone health, and it can also alter magnesium levels, which are important for heart health.
Pharmacists warn about accidentally taking dangerous amounts of some medications... like acetaminophen: more than 3000 milligrams per day can cause severe liver damage.
That’s just 6 extra strength tablets. Patients can easily exceed the safe adult daily dose by taking it along with combination products for cold and flu that also contain acetaminophen.
To avoid getting into trouble, pharmacists say always check the labels of combination products, and consider treating only the symptoms you actually have.
PAIN: A SYMPTOM, NOT A DIAGNOSIS
Pharmacists also recommend you keep a close eye on pain, recognizing it’s not a diagnosis, but a symptom.
“If you find that after a week or so the pain is still not going away, I would say that's a good time point to call the doctor,” said O’Neill.
Some prescription medications are also not recommended for long-term use. Opioid pain relievers are a short-term solution for severe, acute pain. Over-use of antibiotics could invite the development of bacterial resistance.
Experts say if you have any concerns, don't be afraid to ask your pharmacist. For more on medications to keep an eye on, click here.
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