More than 100,000 over-the-counter (OTC) drugs now crowd pharmacy aisle shelves. This means Laborers can often find relief for muscle strains, headaches, coughs, colds and hay fever without taking time off to see a doctor to get a potentially costly prescription.

Many OTC drugs, including allergy medication loratadine (used in Claritin) and antacid ranitidine (in Zantac), were once available only by prescription, but can now be taken without medical supervision. However, all OTC drugs have risks. Some can compromise jobsite safety as their use can make operating equipment or driving dangerous. Others may be harmful if used during pregnancy or during nursing. Caution with OTC drugs helps prevent misuse, overdose, dangerous drug and food interactions and injuries on the job.

OTC drugs are serious medications. Treat them as you would prescription drugs, and you and your family will be safe and healthy.

    • Read the label. This will help you decide if you have the right product for your symptoms, understand the dosing instructions and are aware of any health warnings.
    • Use an OTC medication that treats only the symptoms you have. If you have a cold, but you do not have a sore throat, find an OTC medication that specifically addresses stuffy noses.
    • Know what to avoid. OTC drugs can cause side effects. Bottle or package directions tell what food, drinks and other drugs must be avoided while using the OTC medication. Consider the impact of side effects on job performance, and take all safety warnings seriously.
    • When in doubt, ask.OTC drug choices can be overwhelming. If you have questions, ask your pharmacist or call your health care provider before buying or using a medication.
    • Take your OTC medication exactly as directed.Taking too much of an OTC drug can be just as harmful as taking too much of a prescription medication. Always take the recommended amount at the recommended interval. Talk to your health care provider if you are not getting relief.
    • Use caution when taking more than one OTC medication at a time. Many OTC medications contain the same or similar ingredients. Compare ingredients to make sure you are not taking too much of a particular drug.
    • Never combine prescription and OTC medications without checking with your health care provider first. Some combinations can cause reactions or interfere with effectiveness.
    • Make sure your health care provider and pharmacist have a list of all of your medications, including dietary supplements.
    • Do not give an infant or child OTC drugs without first consulting with their pediatrician. Children or infants should receive only OTC drugs that are specifically formulated for them. Adult-strength products can lead to overdosing. Never cut adult tablets in half or estimate a child’s dose of an adult-strength product.
  • Do not use OTC drugs past their expiration date. Dispose of expired OTC medications promptly and away from children and pets.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]