Over-the-Counter Medicine Do's and Don'ts That May Come in Handy

When it comes to minor ailments, I usually just wing it or ask my wife. That's why I enjoyed a recent article entitled "The Medicine Cabinet Quiz" in the Wall St. Journal where author Melinda Beck highlighted some useful basics about over-the counter medicines. With Beck's permission I've summed up some of the advice she compiled from experts.

What to Take for a Headache

Advil (ibuprofen), Tylenol (acetaminophen) and aspirin all help a headache but through different means. Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen sodium) and aspirin reduce inflammation and thus relieve headaches, arthritis, muscle sprains and so on. But they can cause stomach bleeding.

Aspirin also helps prevent blood clots and thus taken daily can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, but shouldn't be used if you have low blood pressure or open wounds.

Tylenol calms pain signals in the brain but can cause liver damage if you drink too much or take too much.

Ibuprofen agruably is strongest but aspirin works faster, naproxen lasts longer and acetaminophen is safer if you have stomach problems and aren't a heavy drinker.

How to Treat a Muscle Sprain

Sprain your ankle, what do you do? Heat and ice both can help. Heat relaxes the nerves, cold numbs them and both bring more blood circulation to the area. Some say ice first, on and off for 20 minutes at a time for 48 hours after an injury. Others say alternate 20 minutes of heat, 20 minutes of ice. Beck also indicates that heat rubs can be useful in creating a sensation of heat or cold on the skin to help tune out the pain and allow the muscles to relax.

Cleaning a Wound

Beck indicates that if you clean a cut or scrape with hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol, you can actually harm the tissue and delay healing. Rinsing with cold water for a few minutes removes most dirt, and mild soap can take care of the rest if needed.

Sneezing, Sniffling and Sore Throats

Antihistamines (like Benadryl) for allergies. By definition they stop the body from producing histamines that cause inflammation in mucous membranes. But antihistamines can cause drowsiness.

Decongestants like Sudafed and Afrin can help cold sufferers breathe better by constricting small blood vessels and reducing nasal passage swelling. Decongestants can keep you awake.

Antibiotics of course don't work for colds. And you better not have leftovers from the last time you took them for fighting an infection; finish the dosing so bacteria don't become resistant.

Check the article for more details and additional information about the use of coated vs non-coated aspirin and dealing with an upset stomach.

Most importantly...stay healthy! :>