When you suddenly become nauseated, that queasy feeling can completely derail you, so it’s no surprise that many of us reach for over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to help combat nausea—or prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Anti-nausea medications, also known as antiemetics, are readily available at most pharmacies and grocery stores, and many can be purchased without a prescription. These include:
• Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate), which is believed to work by reducing irritation of your stomach and intestinal lining
• Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), an antihistamine that treats motion sickness-related nausea by reducing the inner ear’s ability to sense motion
• Meclizine (Antivert, Bonine), another antihistamine that relieves nausea and dizziness caused by motion sickness
While you can get these medicines over the counter, you should still exercise the same precautions you would when taking a prescription medication. Below, we’ve provided some tips for taking antiemetics safely. This is not intended to take the place of a healthcare provider’s advice, and you should always talk to your doctor if you have questions about taking anti-nausea drugs.
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Precautions When Taking OTC Antiemetics
While you don’t need a doctor’s written permission to get an over-the-counter anti-nausea drug, you should talk to your doctor about taking an antiemetic if you have any health conditions that you think could be masked or exacerbated. Medical conditions that you should discuss with your doctor include high blood pressure, heart disease, thyroid disease, glaucoma, enlarged prostate, asthma, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis.
If you’re currently taking any prescription medications, you should talk to your doctor to make sure there won’t be any harmful interactions with your antiemetic. Bismuth subsalicylate may interact with blood thinners and certain medications for diabetes, arthritis, and gout. Antihistamines like dimenhydrinate and meclizine may interact with muscle relaxants, sleeping pills, and other sedatives. Taking OTC cold or allergy medicines that contain an antihistamine at the same time you’re taking an anti-nausea drug may also be harmful, since you can accidentally end up taking more than the recommended daily amount of antihistamine.
If you and your doctor have determined that it is safe for you to use an anti-nausea drug, follow the instructions on the drug’s label carefully. Don’t exceed the recommended dosage—taking more of the drug won’t necessarily make it work any faster or better, and it may increase your risk for side effects. If you have questions about the recommended dosage, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
To make sure your anti-nausea medication doesn’t lose its effectiveness before its expiration date, store it in a cool, dry place. Although it might seem like a bathroom medicine cabinet is a logical place to keep your over-the-counter drugs, the heat and humidity in your bathroom may cause the medication to become less effective.
As with all medications, prescription or otherwise, you should store your anti-nausea drugs out of reach of any children in your home.