Misconceptions about medicine are as common as pills on a pharmacy shelf.
We could all use a healthy dose of the truth.
Pharmacist Marcia Wyman, PharmD, BCPS, debunks seven common myths about medications:
Fact: When you’re in severe pain, you may look at the dose on the pain reliever label and think, “an extra dose can’t possibly hurt me.” But the truth is, yes, it can. The recommended dose of an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drug isn’t just a suggestion — it’s a careful calculation. Pharmaceutical companies work hard to develop the appropriate dose of each and every medicine.
Taking more than the listed dose can rob you of the medicine’s benefits and increase the risk of serious side effects — leaving you feeling worse. Also pay attention to how pills should be taken. Pills meant to be swallowed should not be chewed. If you have trouble swallowing pills, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about alternatives.
Fact: If your symptoms are gone but you have a week left on your medication, you may be tempted to stop taking the pesky pills. However, if you stop taking your medication early, it can increase your chance of relapsing into illness.
If you’ve considered stopping your medication because it costs too much, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about ways to reduce the cost. Your doctor prescribed that medicine because you need it. There are many ways to make medications more affordable.
Fact: Natural supplements may seem safer and healthier than medications. But since the standards for supplements are not as strict, the amount of each ingredient may vary between products. Potential side effects may not be mentioned on the label.
Furthermore, some supplements may increase the risk of side effects with certain medications. If you’re interested in natural supplements, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which ones are safe to use.
Fact: Antibiotics are only helpful in illnesses caused by bacteria, such as Strep throat. Most illnesses, like colds and sore throats, are caused by viruses that don’t respond at all to antibiotics. Even though you’re feeling miserable, OTC medications will usually relieve your symptoms until the virus is gone. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about which ones are safe to take — if you have hypertension, for example, Sudafed® (pseudoephedrine) can elevate your blood pressure.
If you’re not feeling a lot better in 10 to 14 days, call your doctor. You may have developed a secondary bacterial infection — and that’s when antibiotics will help you. Doctors don’t want to prescribe antibiotics when they aren’t needed because overusing them may lead to resistant, hard-to-treat infections.
Fact: When prescribing a new medication or suggesting an OTC remedy, your doctor needs to know about all the OTC and prescription medications, vitamins and supplements you are taking. This helps your doctor ensure that any new medication will not interact with your current regimen in a dangerous way. Some medications, vitamins or supplements can hinder the way your body absorbs, breaks down and eliminates medicine.
Fact: Putting medications where you’ll see them every day may seem like a good way to remember to take them. However, storing medications and supplements by a bathroom or kitchen sink exposes them to damage from dampness and light. Unless you’re told otherwise, store medications in a dry area, away from heat and direct light. Store them in the original container or in a pill box that can’t be opened by little hands. And always keep medications and supplements where children and pets can’t reach them.
Fact: Pills should always be taken with water. Taking pills with alcohol is especially harmful, as alcohol can seriously interfere with the way your body absorbs medication. Rather than taking a sip and then throwing back the pill, swallow enough water to keep the pill from dissolving before it reaches your stomach. This will avoid irritating your throat. And always check whether to take medication on a full versus an empty stomach.
Following these guidelines and reading medication labels carefully will ensure that your medicine can do its job — and keep you and your loved ones healthy and safe.