You can buy a huge variety of non-prescription or OTC (over the counter) medications at any drug store, pharmacy or supermarket. OTC medications are available to treat nearly any malady, including aches and pain, stomach upset, nausea, diarrhea, coughs and colds and much more.
Many people think that OTC drugs are problem-free because no prescription is required, but some can present considerable risk when you get behind the wheel of a car, even when taken exactly as recommended, and even if you don’t feel impaired.
In fact, research indicates that impairment resulting from therapeutic doses of some OTC products is equal to that of the legal blood alcohol concentration levels.
Car Accidents and OTC Drugs
In the United States, about one-third of fatal car accidents involve an impaired driver. The National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) reports that the number of car accidents occurring under the influence of OTC drugs may be underestimated because few drivers are tested for the presence of non-description medications.
In the U.K., the Department of Transport has identified a number of medications that have the potential to be hazardous, including those for allergies, pain, coughs and cold, gastrointestinal upset and nausea. Medications containing antihistamines present the highest risk of dangerous sedation.
OTC Medications that may be Dangerous
Antihistamines relieve sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes or other allergy symptoms. The active ingredient label may say Diphenhydramine, Brompheniramine, Chlorpheniramine, or Doxylamine. Antihistamines may also be used in other OTC drugs to treat heartburn, indigestion, fever, cough, chest congestion or menstrual pain.
Side effects of antihistamines may include sedation, blurred vision, irritability, restlessness and nervousness. Drowsiness triggered by antihistamines is compounded if you’re tired or haven’t had adequate sleep.
Cough and Cold Medications
OTC medications used to treat coughs and colds, including decongestants and expectorants, have the potential to affect drivers with drowsiness, confusion and blurred vision, especially when the medications are combined with alcohol.
Side effects of cough and cold medications can be substantially worse when taken with prescription meds or other drowsiness-inducing OTC drugs.