You Can Overdose on OTC Pain Meds Easier Than You Think

by Robyn Wright on May 8, 2014

in Living

This post has meaning in my own personal life which is why I am participating in a campaign by BOOMboxNetwork on behalf of the American Gastroenterological Association. I will be compensated for participating, but the opinions are entirely my own.

These days we all seem to search the internet for what is wrong with us before we call the doctor. Of course, we come up with a ton of crazy off-the-wall conditions we think we have then and it just stresses us out even more. Along with diagnosing ourselves, many are medicating ourselves with OTC (over-the-counter) medications. Sadly, we are doing it wrong more often than we think.

It is estimated than more than 100,000 people are hospitalized and 17,000 die every year from gastrointestinal bleeding and liver damage due to overdose or overuse of over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine ingredients.

It is so important that we read and follow labels on our OTC pain medicines and all other OTC medications to find out what the safe dosage is. Hubby actually just recently had an accidental overdose of allergy eye drops that made him really sick (he’s okay now). One of the problems with labels is that the older we get the harder they are to see. I’m just 44 and my eyes struggle to read the information on these bottles.

One way to help with the tiny print is to write on your bottles with a permanent marker or tape a note to the bottle. You still want to be able to get to the original printed information though so do not wrote over important information and if you tape a note, just tape one edge so you can fold it out of the way. In the photo below you can see where I wrote the maximum dosage for each of these items.

Tape notes or write on OTC bottles to make max dosage easier to read

There are a lot of folks who cannot take NSAIDS for various reasons. One of the most common problems is that it can cause bleeding. I cannot take NSAIDS myself because I had stomach ulcers at one time and because of my weight loss surgery I also cannot take them. Write on your bottles if someone cannot take a medication like I did below stating “Not for Robyn”. Also acetaminophen over dosages can cause serious liver damage which is irreversible.

Write who should NOT take certain meds like NSAIDS on the OTC bottles also

Make sure you understand what the actual medication is. People often confuse acetaminophen and NSAIDs because both can be pain relievers. While they can do the same thing, the chemical makeup is different and can cause a big problem. On top of this there are a lot of multi-symptom OTC products that contain the pain medication also. If you do not keep track you could be accidentally doubling up and can cause serious medical problems.

Medicine Count Graphic of Acetaminophen and NSAIDs products

Check with a professional if you are unsure of what an OTC medication contains or does not contain. Your doctor or a pharmacist are the perfect people to ask these questions. If you are the caretaker of others, make sure you know this about their medications as well.

Adults with chronic pain (sufferers) can be more prone to exceeding the dosages on OTC pain relievers. Do you now, or have you ever, suffered from any of these things? If so, you might have accidentally taken too much of an OTC pain medications to ease your pain or because you did not realize the same pain medicine was in multiple products you took. It is crucial that you only take one product at a time that is a pain medication.

Chronic Pain Sufferers are more likely to exceed recommeded dosages of OTC pain relivers. Graphic

Tracking when you take medication and how much is really important. When we are in pain or sick our illness can make us tired and forgetful and some of the medications we take can do the same. Do not rely on your memory alone to know when you took your last dose. Methods of tracking your medications can include:

  • Notepad
    A simple piece of paper where you write the date, time of day, medication name, and dosage each time you take something is the simplest route.
  • Printed Calendar
    If medication is common, try using a store-bought calendar or printing out your own. You can use one just marked by days or even an hourly calendar if you take a lot of medications.
  • Printed or Online Charts
    If you use Microsoft Office here are some free templates you can download to track your medications. Some are for printing, some are to use directly on your computer.
  • Medication Apps
    If you use a smartphone, tablet, or computer there are lots of apps that can help you track your medications. If you use a Windows Phone here are several medication apps to check out; for Android device users check out these medication apps in the Google Play store, for iOS users, search for “medication” in iTunes to find apps.


And finally, I strongly encourage you to visit the AGA’s site, Gut Check: Know Your Medicine, for more information on how you can be safe with OTC pain medications. You can also follow the hashtag #GutCheckAGA on your favorite social networks for more information.

Did you learn something from this post? Please share! Have you, or someone you know, ever had problems due to taking the wrong dosage of OTC medications?


© 2014, Robyn Wright. All rights reserved.

Comments on this entry are closed.


1 Robin May 9, 2014 at 5:22 am

I have always gotten confused about what is in pain relievers (though I have never gotten ill from any). Your post finally made the difference between acetaminophen and NSAIDs clear to me. Thank you!

2 Robyn Wright May 9, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you! This comment just totally made my day!!!! I’m so glad you found this post so helpful!!!!!

3 Jane m May 10, 2014 at 7:10 am

Very powerful information, we all need to stay educated & alert

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