If you're one of the many people who prefers to self-medicate instead of going to the doctor, it might be time to inspect your medicine cabinet.
Out of 62 over the counter medicines (meaning available to buy without a prescription) in France investigated by consumer magazine 60 millions de consommateurs, 28 of them were classed as “to be avoided” because they do more harm than good.
Best-selling products were among those “blacklisted” including commonly used cold medicines such as Actifed, Dolirhume, RhinAdvil and Nurofen Cold.
According to the special edition of the consumer magazine, the benefit to risk ratio with these four products was considered unfavourable.
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All four of these over the counter medicines contain cocktails of two or three active ingredients including a vasoconstrictor to prevent a stuffy nose, antihistamine for a runny nose as well as paracetamol or ibuprofen for headaches.
This all-in-one approach increases the risk of overdose and serious side effects that could affect a person's heart and brain, according to the consumer magazine.
The magazine also highlighted the dangers of another ingredient, pseudoephedrine, which can be used as a decongestant and stimulant.
“In short, in order to decongest a stuffy nose we hand patients a bazooka,” said Professor Jean-Paul Giroud, a pharmacologist and member of France's Academy of Medicine.
“This substance exposes people to risks of cardiovascular accidents and stroke and should be removed from the market,” he added.
Consumers were also warned against sprays and cough drops like AngiSpray, the brand Drill and Strepsils which contain antiseptics.
This is “completely unjustified as a way of relieving a sore throat,” said the magazine.
Only 13 of the products such as Vicks Vaporub, Imodiumcaps and Gaviscon mints, Forlax 10 G and Maalox were considered fine to use and were deemed to have “a favorable benefit to risk ratio”.
Others were classified as fine to use “for lack of a better option”, meaning that although their effectiveness was found to be low or unproven there were no or very rare cases of adverse effects.
The magazine also highlighted other risks of taking medicines that are ignored by the public such as the fact that some cough syrup may impair a person's ability to drive a vehicle and for pregnant women, taking a lozenge for a sore throat which contains ibuprofen or aspirin is dangerous for the fetus.
Drugs available without prescription often escape the radar of “pharmacovigilance” or drug safety measures, says the magazine which calls on consumers to report any adverse effects of over the counter drugs on the website “Signalement-sante.gouv.fr“, set up by the health authorities in 2017.