We are going through one of the worst spring allergy seasons in history. Allergy sufferers know the symptoms: sneezing, watery itchy eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose, etc. This has led sufferers to go to their local pharmacies/supermarkets to seek medication to relieve the discomfort associated with allergies. The New Jersey Poison Information and Education System, NJPIES, cautions individuals to be careful when taking allergy medications or giving them to a child. There is a common misconception that non-prescription (over-the-counter/OTC) medications are not dangerous because they are sold without a prescription. Such medications may, in fact, produce serious side effects which may cause harm to those taking them.

The New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES) would like to raise awareness about the potential effects from OTC and prescription allergy medications. Adverse effects range from agitation to drowsiness and/or stomach upset to liver damage.

Before you reach for any allergy medication, either OTC or prescription, we recommend the following tips to prevent problems related to medication use:

  • Almost all allergy medications can cause drowsiness and/or a relaxed state of mind. These side effects can cause operating equipment and driving to be dangerous. Also use caution when riding a bicycle and walking in the street. Be particularly careful if the individual seeking to use these medications is on other medications, particularly those which may also cause drowsiness. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages while taking any medication, including allergy medications. Mixing the two could prove problematic.
  • Allergy medications may interfere with vision. Blurring of vision may occur and interfere with driving and similar skills. Experiencing pain in the eyes or feeling as if there is something in the eye may be an indication of a serious side effect of many allergy medications and the need for medical evaluation.
  • 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.
  • Watch for duplicate active ingredients in products taken at the same time. Many times medications with different names and even different intended purposes contain the same active ingredients. Taking these together, even if each is in the intended dose, can result in serious overdose.
  • Remember that more does not mean better. Don’t take medicines longer or in higher doses than the label recommends. If symptoms persist, it is time to see a doctor.
  • Be particularly careful about dosage recommendations. With liquid medications, it is best to use a measuring spoon or a dosing cup marked in teaspoons, not a common kitchen spoon.
  • 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.
If you suspect a poisoning, call the Poison Control Centers Help Hotline immediately at 1-800-222-1222, for treatment advice. The hotline should be called both for emergency poisonings as well as for non-emergency questions regarding medications, household products, plants, environmental contaminants, or other poisons. The hotline is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! Remember, Help Is Just a Phone Call Away!