Some over-the-counter remedies should be used only after a trip to the doctor. Others don’t work well enough to justify the risk of side effects. Here are two examples:
Overactive bladder. You’ll probably start seeing ads for a new product: the Oxytrol patch. Previously a prescription-only drug, it will become available this fall as an over-the-counter product for women with that condition. As with all drugs in its class, Oxytrol (oxybutynin) is only moderately effective at relieving symptoms and can cause dry mouth and constipation. Our analysis of the evidence showed that the prescription patch caused skin reactions at the site of application in about one of every four people who used it. And 11 percent of the time people stop using it because of that complication. (The Rx and OTC patches contain the same dose of medication.)
Multisymptom cold remedies might not be worth the bother.
Our medical advisers caution against treating yourself for an overactive bladder without first seeing a physician for a diagnosis. The symptoms, which include incontinence and a frequent need to urinate, can stem from other conditions, including an infection and tumors, and medications for other conditions, such as those for high blood pressure.
If you have mild symptoms, try lifestyle changes, such as cutting back on caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, drinking less between dinner and bedtime, and doing Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic muscles that help control urination.
If those don’t help, medication might be called for. But the Oxytrol patch might not be the best place to start. Our CR Best Buy Drug recommendations include prescription tolterodine (Detrol or generic) and its extended-release version (Detrol LA). They have a lower rate of side effects than other medications in their class, but you still have to watch out for dry mouth, constipation, blurred vision, and dizziness.
Multiple-symptom cold remedies. Colds can make you miserable in many ways, so it’s certainly tempting to reach for a multisymptom cold reliever. But the product might not provide the relief you seek and could cause side effects.
For example, only a single active ingredient in Vicks DayQuil Cold & Flu might actually do you much good: the pain reliever acetaminophen, which can help lower fever, reduce sore throat, and ease body aches. The other two ingredients—the cough suppressant dextromethorphan and the decongestant phenylephrine—don’t work that well. Some multisymptom cold relievers, such as Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold & Cough, contain an older-style antihistamine that can help dry a runny nose. (“Nighttime” versions contain an antihistamine that causes drowsiness.) But the side effects, including dry eyes and mouth, and fluid retention, might make it not worth the bother—or worth the money.
Instead, you’re better off listening to Mom about getting rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Consider taking two teaspoons of honey to help ease a cough. Take medication only if you really need it, and even then take only products that target your particular symptoms.