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You’re sick with the flu. You’ve taken medicine to help reduce your fever. Now you're looking to relieve those aches, pains, nagging cough, and stuffy head, so you reach for another bottle from your medicine cabinet.

Sound familiar? If so, you could be putting yourself at risk for an accidental overdose of an over-the-counter (OTC) pain or fever medicine.

Pain relief medication is generally safe if taken as directed. But taking too much of these medicines can lead to liver damage, stomach bleeding, and kidney disease. Learn how you can protect yourself and your family from unintentional overdosing.

Drug Safety: Know Your Pain Relievers

First, it’s important to know what kind of pain reliever you’re taking. OTC pain relievers come in two major classes: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen.

NSAIDs include aspirin (Bayer, Exedrin, Bufferin), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is found in many OTC products. In addition to relieving pain, these medicines reduce fever. 

OTC pain and fever medicines are available in many forms, including tablets, caplets, gel caps, and liquids.

How to Avoid Double-Dosing

Because OTC pain and fever relievers are generally safe and effective when taken as directed, they are combined with other active ingredients in many types of medicines. These include cold-and-flu and allergy medicines, as well as some prescription medications.

Be careful not to take more than one medicine with the same active ingredient of a drug. For example, if you’ve taken acetaminophen to reduce your fever, you shouldn’t take a medicine for flu symptoms that also contains acetaminophen, or you’ll be getting a double dose.

It’s also important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about other medical problems you have and other medications or supplements you are taking. 

Why It’s Important to Read Drug Labels

Sometimes OTC pain medicines can show up in products you might not expect. So read the labels of every drug -- both OTC and prescription -- before you take them.

You can find information about all OTC medicines on the Drug Facts label on the package. This lists the active and inactive ingredients in the medicine and provides instructions for how to take it.

The active ingredients in all prescription drugs are also listed on the container’s label. If you have any questions about a medicine or what’s in it, ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking it.

Choosing an OTC Pain Reliever

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