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over-the-counter medicines

OTC Meds May Affect Your Driving

Anyone who operates a vehicle of any type—car, bus, train, plane, or boat—needs to know there are over-the-counter medicines that can make you drowsy and can affect your ability to drive and operate machinery safely.

Over-the-counter medicines are also known as OTC or nonprescription medicines. All these terms mean the same thing: medicines that you can buy without a prescription from a healthcare professional. Each OTC medicine has a Drug Facts label to guide you in your choices and to help keep you safe. OTC medicines are serious medicines and their risks can increase if you don’t choose them carefully and use them exactly as directed on the label.

According to Ali Mohamadi, M.D., a medical officer at FDA, “You can feel the effects some OTC medicines can have on your driving for a short time after you take them, or their effects can last for several hours. In some cases, a medicine can cause significant ‘hangover-like’ effects and affect your driving even the next day.” If you have not had enough sleep, taking medicine with a side effect that causes drowsiness can add to the sleepiness and fatigue you may already feel. Being drowsy behind the wheel is dangerous; it can impair your driving skills.

Choosing and Using Safely
You should read all the sections of the Drug Facts label before you use an OTC medicine. But, when you know you have to drive, it’s particularly important to take these simple steps:

First, read the “active ingredients” section and compare it to all the other medicines you are using. Make sure you are not taking more than one medicine with the same active ingredient. Then make sure the “purpose” and “uses” sections of the label match or fit the condition you are trying to treat.

Next, carefully read the entire “Warnings” section. Check whether the medicine should not be used with any condition you have, or whether you should ask a health care professional whether you can use it. See if there’s a warning that says when you shouldn’t use the medicine at all, or when you should stop using it.

The “When using this product” section will tell you how the medicine might make you feel, and will include warnings about drowsiness or impaired driving.

Look for such statements as “you may get drowsy,” “marked drowsiness will occur,” “Be careful when driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery” or “Do not drive a motor vehicle or operate machinery when using this product.”

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