Nonprofit educates the public about the side effects of medication, encourages the public to weigh risks and benefits first

NEW YORK, NY – DECEMBER 2, 2015 – MedShadow, a nonprofit advocacy website that educates consumers on the side effects of medication, has expanded its coverage of the side effects of cold and flu medications now that the official flu season is under way. Although no drug can cure the common cold, sufferers may automatically reach for an over-the-counter medication to treat unpleasant symptoms such as cough, stuffiness or sinus pressure. Such drugs may bring with them a variety of surprising side effects which should be considered first.  “Having a cold or flu can be draining, yet over the counter or prescription drugs don’t always help and they can be damaging,” explains Su Robotti, founder, president, MedShadow. “The 4 commonly used drugs all have side effects that will come as a surprise to many, but should be taken seriously.” MedShadow shares the following:

#1 Acetaminophen: Not more than 4000 mg per dayA common ingredient in over the counter products as well as in prescription pain medications, acetaminophen is good for aches, pains and fever in low doses. However, at high doses it causes severe liver damage. Acetaminophen is now the leading cause of liver failure, and most often overdoses are unintentional. The upshot: If you’re taking multiple medications for a cold, check each product’s acetaminophen dose, and be sure you’re not taking more than 4000 mg per day.

#2 Decongestants: High Blood Pressure RiskBefore reaching for a decongestant to clear blocked nasal passages, consider this: all decongestants increase blood pressure. People with high blood pressure or those who are taking medication for blood pressure should avoid decongestants. Patients who are following a diet and exercise plan to manage blood pressure should check with their doctor first.

#3 Antihistimines: A Wild Card Depending on AgeSome antihistamines commonly cause drowsiness, which may become more severe when combined with many other OTC and prescription drugs. Others, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and doxylamine (found in some Unisom products), may also cause unexpected reactions in certain age groups. For example, children and adults ages 65 and older may become excited or restless. Diphenhydramine may also increase the effects of opioid pain relievers, another reason for caution.

Antihistamines in general may also cause confusion and dizziness in the elderly, possibly increasing their risk of falling.These dangers vary from person to person, so it’s important to be attentive to unusual reactions.

#4 Say No to AntibioticsNo matter what you try to combat the effects of a cold or the flu, antibiotics will not help. Both the common cold and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria, and antibiotics don’t work against viruses. Many people ask their doctors for an z-pack when they have a cold, however, feeling that it couldn’t hurt. Antibiotics can cause harm, though — antibiotic resistance is a much bigger health concern than a cold (for more on this, read’s Pros & Cons of Antibiotics). Strep throat is a different — it does call for an antibiotic. Your doctor can test for it – red throats and yellow mucus are not a firm diagnosis.

If a week goes by and symptoms get worse, or are very severe, MedShadow suggests consulting a healthcare provider.

Need more information on the side effects of cold and flu meds or the efficacy of the flu vaccine? Click on these MedShadow articles:

Flu Report: 2015-2016

Tough Out a Cold or Medicate It?

What are the Risks of the Flu Vaccine?

Statins May Dampen Response to Flu Vaccine

Drugs in Pregnancy: Colds, Coughs, Flu & Allergies

About MedShadow: Founded in 2012 by Su Robotti, MedShadow seeks to educate patients and encourage discussion between the consumer and health care provider about the short-term, long-term side effects, risks and benefits of medication. MedShadow uses its website and social media platforms to gather and report news and resources related to the side effects of medications. While recognizing the beneficial, often life-saving effects of drugs, we know that accurate and complete information on side effects is frequently lacking.  For more information, visit


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