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Every day millions of Americans turn to over-the-counter medications for relief for everything from allergies to headaches and heartburn.
But the way they are doing that could be putting their health at risk.
Heading to a pharmacy can be a little bewildering. There are literally thousands of drugs on sale over the counter to treat a huge variety of problems.
Knowing how to take those over-the-counter or otc medications is important. But a new study shows most Americans are not paying attention.
The heartburn drug Prilosec is just the latest in a long line of former prescription drugs that are now available over-the-counter. The FDA allowed Prilosec to be sold without a prescription only after the manufacturers showed that patients could easily understand and follow instructions on the label.
But a new government survey shows most Americans are doing a poor job of reading labels and following those instructions.
The FDA says misuse of over-the-counter drugs sent almost 180,000 people to the hospital last Year.
Fifty-one percent of those polled say they have taken an over the counter medication and a prescription drug at the same time, something the surgeon general says can be dangerous.
Dr. Richard Carmona/ US Surgeon General: "Many over the counter products share the same active ingredients. So you can hurt yourself by doubling or tripling up on different medications."
Almost half those surveyed say they have taken more than the recommended dose of an over the counter drug, and 35 percent say they have taken the next dose sooner than the label recommends.
So here are some simple safety tips. First, always read the label. Pay attention to the ingredients, the directions on how to use the medication, and particularly to the warning label.
Take only the recommended dose. And if you are taking a herbal remedy or dietary supplement along with an over-the-counter drug, let your doctor know.
Dr. David Tanner/ Family Physician: "They don't consider them at all similar to medications, and therefore when asked a lot of times they don't think about these products that they take."
These may seem like obvious suggestions, but what is even more obvious is that many people are not reading warning labels, and are putting themselves at risk unnecessarily when they take over the counter medications.