It is far too easy to assume that an over-the-counter medication won’t cause any trouble. After all, you don’t even need a prescription for it. How risky could it be?
Unfortunately, the answer might be far too dangerous if it is combined with other medicines. One family wrote to us about a tragedy:
Q. My daughter passed away ten days before Christmas last year from taking OTC cold medicine with her prescription pain medication. She stopped breathing in her sleep and was long gone before anyone knew. I urge people to take great care with what they put into their bodies, especially if they are on prescribed meds. There could be a deadly drug interaction.
Doctor Failed to Check Her Symptoms:
She had been to the doctor the day before complaining about trouble breathing, and he was in such a hurry he told her she was just getting over a cold and would be OK. The autopsy showed one of her lungs was nearly twice the size of the other one and filled with fluid.
If you feel your doctor is not hearing you, MAKE yourself heard. Be persistent in communicating your problems. Our precious daughter was the light of my life. If one person can be helped by her story, I will be satisfied.
OTC Drug Interactions with Prescription Medicines:
A. As your tragic story illustrates, OTC drugs can interact with prescription medications. People don’t always realize that they should check on a possible drug interaction, since OTC products are often thought of as innocuous.
You don’t say which pain medicine your daughter was on, nor which cold medicine she took. Both prescription pain relievers and OTC cold medicines may contain acetaminophen, which could lead to an overdose of this common drug. Other dangerous interactions are also possible.
Be Persistent about Diagnosis:
Patients need to be persistent if a doctor is not addressing their health concern. A recent report from the Institute of Medicine estimates that missed or incorrect diagnoses account for one out of ten deaths in hospitals. In the outpatient setting an estimated 12 million Americans are misdiagnosed each year (New England Journal of Medicine, online, Nov. 11, 2015).
It is always prudent for a patient to ask, “What else could it be?” To help others avoid drug interactions and missed diagnoses, we offer our book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them. It contains questions to ask and actions to take to stay safe. Don’t let anyone in your family suffer a misdiagnosis or a deadly drug interaction.