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What’s in Your Medicine Cabinet?

Published: May 2, 2013

It’s easy to take way too much of certain active ingredients—and put your health at risk—by mixing and matching over-the-counter remedies to soothe cold, cough, or allergy symptoms. Experts recently reduced the daily dose of acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) that’s considered safe for adults. Additionally, people often don’t realize that it and other medicines such as pseudoephedrine (a decongestant) and dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) are found in hundreds of different pills, capsules, syrups, and lozenges. To avoid “double-dipping” and to stay safe, take only one product containing the same ingredient when possible, and monitor your daily dose using the following chart.

Check Your Meds

Active Ingredient Typical Daily Dose* Daily Limit Danger of Higher Doses
(extra-strength, 500 mg)
3 pills 6 pills Liver damage, death
(regular, 325 mg)
4 pills 12 pills Stomach ulcers, bleeding
(15 mg/teaspoon, for coughs)
6 teaspoons 8 teaspoons Seizures, coma, death
(regular, 60 mg, for congestion)
2-4 pills 4 pills Seizures, trouble breathing

*Always consult your pharmacist and physician for personal recommendations. Dozens of other seemingly harmless medicine cabinet drugs have dangerous side effects that are amplified when mixed with other medicines. You can compare any meds you are thinking of taking together at nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html.

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