According to the National Transportation Safety Board, many accidents have occurred as a result of the casual use of licit medications by a vehicle operator. Due to possible similar symptoms between substance abuse and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, it is important for employees to be aware of the possible adverse reactions that OTC medications can cause. When a doctor prescribes medication, he or she explains the possible side effects of the medication the patient is about to take. A pharmacist also outlines the side effects when filling the prescription. However, when an individual treats him or herself with a non-prescription medication, he or she becomes his or her own doctor and pharmacist. Underlying Medical Condition In general, when employees are not feeling well, they may choose to stay home. At other times, they may feel they must report to work in spite of an illness and decide to take OTC medications. It is good to remember that OTCs only hide symptoms for a short time. They do not "cure" the condition. Further, employees will not be in peak physical condition to drive. Some Adverse Reactions to OTCs There are two main areas of concern about unwanted reactions to medications. 1. Possible Allergy. Allergy is a rare and unpredictable reaction to a substance. If an employee knows that he or she is allergic to something, he or she should read the list of ingredients of OTCs carefully to assure that allergens are not included in its formulation. 2. Possible Unexpected Side Effects. Side effects take many forms including drowsiness, impairment of judgment, upset stomach or bowels, disturbance of vision, or even itching. Any of these could cause an impairment that might lead to incapacitation while driving. Decongestants and caffeine (contained in coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate) are both strong stimulants in some individuals. Taken together, they can make a person hyperactive. Note also that some cough syrups contain a decongestant. Summary Advice for Employees
OTCs, Side Effects, and Interactions The following table is a list of common OTCs but is not inclusive. It is simply an outline of the possible side effects that could affect an employee's driving ability. As with all drugs, side effects may vary with the individual.
Ringing in ears, nausea, stomach ulceration, hyperventilation
Ibuprofen Advil Motrin Nuprin
Antihistamines Actifed, Dristan, Benadryl, Drixoral, Cheracol-Plus, Nyquil, Chlortrimenton, Sinarest, Contact, Sinutab, Dimetapp
Cough Suppressants Benylin, Robitussin CF/DM, Vicks Formula 44
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