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By: Les Riess, M.D.
| We’re in the
middle of the cold and flu season. Hopefully you’ve managed to avoid all the
bugs out there. However, if you or someone in your family does become sick,
you’ll probably reach for some type of medication to relieve your symptoms.
If and when you do, it’s important to take the medication correctly.
Before taking an over-the-counter medication
With any medication, read the label, before taking your first dose. With over-the-counter medications, the active ingredients will be listed, along with the symptoms that they treat. Some medications have two or three active ingredients that work to relieve different symptoms. Choose the medication that treats the symptoms of your particular illness. For instance, if you have a cough, but not a runny nose, you don’t need a medication with an ingredient to help alleviate nasal decongestion.
Another factor to consider when reading the label is that some multi-symptom medications contain a pain reliever (such as acetaminophen). If you choose a medication with a pain reliever, you don’t need to take another medication to relieve pain. Some of the over-the-counter pain relief medications include ones containing acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), ibuprofen (such as Motrin or Advil), naltrexone sodium (such as Aleve), or aspirin (Excedrin, Bayer, or Bufferin). Most of these pain relievers also come in generic forms, so be sure to check the labels. You’ll also want to pay attention to any warnings listed on the label. Some medications can cause drowsiness, and you shouldn’t drive after taking them. Some drugs react with each other and shouldn’t be taken together, so you should pay particular attention if you are taking any other over-the-counter or prescription medications. Certain medications shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach; with others you’ll need to avoid alcohol, tobacco, or certain foods. If you have any allergies, check the list in inactive ingredients to make sure the medication won’t cause an allergic reaction.
Finally, you’ll want to check the label for proper storage instructions. Some medications should be stored at room temperature, others in the refrigerator. If you have any questions about taking an over-the-counter medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.When it comes time to administer the medication – to yourself or someone else – check the dosage chart each time. Different medications have different dosages. The dosage cups that come with some medications can be slightly different, so it’s important to make sure each time that the correct dose is given. Check the expiration date, and discard if the medication is outdated. Read the label for other instructions. For instance, some medications need to be shaken – to distribute the active ingredients – before administering. Others need to be taken with a full glass of water, or on a full – or empty – stomach.
Administering medications to children
Following dosage instructions can be especially critical when giving medications to children. Medication is often given according to body weight, and for young children just a little extra medication can be too much. Infant drops, marketed for babies, are often more concentrated than regular children’s medications. So, while a teaspoon of children’s acetominophen is the correct dose for your four-year-old, a teaspoon of the same medication in the infant-drop form would be too much.
Always use medication recommended specifically for children or by your doctor. Don’t give children medication intended for adults.Both acetominophen and ibuprofen can help bring down a child’s fever. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ibuprofen is only recommended for children over the age of six months. For babies under three months, it’s probably best to check with your doctor before administering any type of medication. Also check with your doctor before giving a child aspirin products, as they may be associated with an increased risk of Reye syndrome.
Keeping a medication record
If you take prescription or any type of over-the-counter medication on a regular basis, you should keep a written record of all your current medications. This record should include the names, the dosage, and the schedule of when each medication is taken. Include both the prescription and generic names of each medication. Also list what each medication does and why you are taking it.It is best to keep one written record at home, in a safe place, and another in your purse or wallet. This will enable you to double check that the medications you get from the pharmacy are correct. It will also help medical personnel treat you effectively should an emergency occur and you are not able to tell them which medications you are taking.When taken correctly, medications can have a significant impact on reducing pain, treating symptoms of illness, shortening illness, and even preventing it. Proper administration is often an important factor in assuring that medication can do the job it was intended to do. To make sure your medications work for you, read the label, talk to your doctor, and follow all instructions carefully.
Dr. Riess is a board-certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.