Q: While I was recovering from a recent hospitalization my daughter came to stay with me for a week. She thought it would be helpful if she did a major spring cleaning of my apartment since I couldn't do very much. She went through my kitchen cabinets and threw out expired food products which probably needed to be done. She also decided to organize my medicine cabinet and drawers in the vanity. She really got upset when she found all the over-the-counter medicines I had accumulated. I don't understand why she made such an issue about this. Since they aren't prescription drug why would she have been so concerned?

A: If you read this column on a regular basis you might recall recent articles on prescription drugs/generic drugs and supplements. Your question brings up another category regarding the safe use of products that millions of individuals frequently take. Over-the-counter drugs (OTC) are medicines sold directly to the consumer without the requirement of a prescription from a healthcare professional. Products are typically used to relieve aches, pain, itches and reduce fever. Many might assume since they can purchase the products without a physician giving specific orders there is no reason to worry...maybe...maybe not.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to decide if a particular medicine is safe enough to sell over-the-counter. The FDA also regulates the advertising of prescription drugs while the Federal Trade Commission regulates advertising of over-the-counter drugs. Several years ago a law was passed requiring additional information to be included on the labels of OTC drugs describing the safest way to use the drugs. The label must list the active ingredients, what the drug is used for, when and how much to take, and inactive ingredients.

The "Drug Facts" label also has a warning component with an alert as to who should not take the product. OTC drugs do have risks involved with consumption since they can interact with other medications, supplements, food and drinks. People with certain medical conditions (diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, high blood pressure for example) should be very careful to avoid complications caused by taking over-the counter medications.

Recommendations are to contact your physician if you have serious or chronic health conditions before taking any new medication. For the average consumer they should also consult a medical professional if symptoms do not improve after taking the advised dosage of an over-the-counter drug.

All readers are encouraged to download the fact sheet "Medicines In My Home" which can be found on-line at www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/BuyingUsingMedicineSafely/UnderstandingOver-the-CounterMedicines/UCM201466.pdf. This is excellent information for all families to have on hand. Hopefully after reading all of the information you will understand why your daughter had concerns.

Do you have a question? Call 1-800-892-0890. Direct correspondence to ro@esmv.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Rosanne DiStefano is the Executive Director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.

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