Holiday Stress, Work and OTC Painkillers: Not Always a Good Mix

Long lines, overspent budgets and increased emotional stress will contribute to aches and pains for many workers this holiday season.

But the National Consumers League, the nation's oldest consumer advocacy organization, says consumers should know about the risks of the over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications they choose to alleviate holiday pains before they take them. As many safety directors know, certain OTC medications, such as those for colds and allergies, can impact work performance and driving ability and cause fatique and inattention. But did you know certain pain relievers can have serious side effects?

NCL has published a new free brochure, "OTC Pain Meds: What Helps, What Hurts," which is available by calling a toll-free hotline, (866) 216-2316.

During the holiday season, aches and pains may lead many workers to rely on OTC pain relievers to ease conditions such as arthritis and headaches without considering the side effects. Many consumers take these medicines unaware that some can cause not only things like sleepiness, but serious physical complications such as gastrointestinal ulcers as well. In fact, some OTC pain relievers can increase the risk for stomach bleeding by as much as two to three times and account for more than 16,500 deaths and 103,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. each year.

Increased alcohol intake can also cause serious problems for people who consistently use OTC meds to treat common pains or colds. Some painkillers may cause liver problems when taken with alcohol, and since alcohol irritates the stomach lining, drinking it while taking anti-inflammatories can be disastrous.

"It is essential to know that OTC pain relievers carry risks as well as benefits," says NCL President Linda Golodner. "Just because OTC pain relievers can be found on store shelves doesn't necessarily mean they are risk-free."

This season, consumers can take an active role in preventing serious health complications by understanding the risks associated with OTC pain relievers. NCL offers tips on how to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and fatalities:

  • Involve a doctor or pharmacist in the selection of OTC medicines. If you drink three or more alcoholic beverages each day, talk to your doctor to determine what pain medication is right for you.
  • Read and follow the directions on the label.
  • Understand the risks involved as well as the benefits.
  • Know your own personal risk factors, such as age and medical history, when taking OTC pain medications.

"We want this season to be happy and safe for everyone," adds Golodner.

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