The New Jersey Poison Information & Education System
Serving New Jersey Since 1983

Warning Against Misuse of Over-the-Counter Cough & Cold Medicines

Cold and flu season is upon us.  To ease our symptoms many treat their own cold or flu symptoms with non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Although these medications may provide much needed relief from coughing, runny nose, and congestion, there is opportunity for misuse. A common misconception is that these medicines can not possible be dangerous because they are sold over the counter.

New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES) would like to raise awareness that misuse of OTCs can lead to unintentional poisonings. The misuse can result in adverse effects, ranging from stomach upset to excessive sleepiness or even liver damage.

We recommend the following tips to prevent poisonings related to medication use:

Select medications that treat ONLY the symptoms you have. For example, use a decongestant if you are congested, but only use decongestants with cough suppressant if you have a cough as well.

Remember that more does not mean better. Don't take medications longer or in higher doses than the label recommends. If symptoms persist, it is time to see a doctor.

Be particularly careful about converting dose instructions. With liquid medications, it is best to use a measuring spoon or a dosing cup marked in teaspoons, not a common kitchen spoon.

Many times medications with different names and even different intended purposes contain the same active ingredients. Taking these, even if each is in the intended dose, together can result in serious overdose.

Follow the product label instructions. Be sure to put on a light and your glasses if needed to read the label carefully before each dose is taken or given to someone else.

Avoid adverse drug interactions. If you are currently taking any prescription or non-prescription medications, ask your pharmacist or health care provider for assistance in choosing non-prescription medications. If this is not possible, questions can be directed to NJPIES at 1-800-222-1222.

The Poison Control Center Hotline number is 1-800-222-1222, can be used for treatment advice for emergency poisonings as well as for non-emergency questions regarding medications, household products, plants, and environmental contaminants.  The hotline is accessible 24 hours per day, everyday!