OTC Meds and Work: Not Always a Great Combination

Some common over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can cause serious side effects. These side effects can put your health at risk and get in the way of your everyday activities.

Some of these side effects can be felt or sensed by you, but not by others. Side effects you can usually feel are:

  • Dizziness

  • Drowsiness

  • Double vision

  • Headache

  • Vertigo

Those you may not feel are:

  • Confusion

  • Depression

  • Slow reactions

Any of these side effects can weaken or change your perception, attention, and judgment. They can be especially dangerous if your job needs you to be sharp and focused.

Consider your workplace

The type of work you do and your workplace plays a role in any side effects. For example, someone who has to keep an eye on gauges in a control room may feel sleepy after taking antihistamines. But someone who does active physical work may not.

Conditions in your workplace may change how certain medicines work. These conditions include:

  • Heat

  • Humidity

  • Cold

  • Being exposed to chemicals

Someone working in a hot and humid workplace will sweat a lot. This can lead to thirst and changes in your body chemistry. This can change the way a medicine works. You should pay attention to things in your workplace that could make a medicine's side effects worse.

When medicines get in the way

OTC allergy and cold medicines (antihistamines) are good examples of the kinds of medicines that can affect your activities. Many traditional antihistamines cause side effects you can feel, such as sleepiness. They also bring on effects you might not notice. These include:

  • Trouble making decisions

  • Slowed reaction times

  • Poor coordination

  • Trouble understanding, learning, and remembering

Other medicines that can get in the way of your daily activities are:

  • OTC decongestants

  • Stimulant laxatives

  • OTC sleep aids

  • Heartburn remedies

  • Stay awake or alert pills

It's important for you to be sharp and focused while operating machinery, computers, or driving. The effects of these medicines can make these activities troublesome and often dangerous.

What you can do

Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about the medicines you should take. Talk with them about common side effects and if the medicines react with any other medicines or supplements you take. They can point you to the kinds of medicines that won't make you sleepy and don't cause the same side effects or reactions. Always check with your employer about any rules about medicines in your workplace.

Here are some tips to use when taking OTC medicines:

  • Read the warnings on all medicine packages and instructions.

  • Always follow package directions when taking medicines.

  • Ask your pharmacist to check if the OTC medicine will react with any other medicines or herbal supplements you are taking.

  • Don't drink alcohol when taking medicines.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.