Some people feel that because they can buy medication over the counter, there are no severe side effect risks. However, this is a perilous way to think. All drugs can have side effects, and just because you don’t need a prescription to pick something up at a drug store, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adhere to the instructions.

Drug side effects can be dangerous sometimes, or they can be mild. It depends on how much of the drug you have taken, as well as what preexisting conditions you have. In some situations, a drug can impact you depending on what else is in your system at the time.

Let’s look at some over-the-counter medications that can have severe side effects, and what you can do to avoid harming yourself when you take them.


People take acetaminophen for pain. It is not as strong of a drug as Vicodin, for instance, or Percocet. However, you shouldn’t take over 3,000 milligrams of acetaminophen per day.

If you do so, then you could damage your liver. Some signs of liver damage are:

  • Appetite loss
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

In general, you should not take anything approaching 3,000 mg of acetaminophen per day, unless your doctor has explicitly directed you to do so. Apart from that, follow the directions on the bottle. Liver damage is potentially quite serious, so that’s a situation you always want to avoid.

Cough Syrup

There are several different kinds of cough syrup on the market. You can use it to treat things like:

  • Various flu strains
  • Persistent coughs
  • Sinus congestion
  • Stuffy nose

You can purchase cough syrup over the counter, except for some high-strength varieties. The reason that it is potentially dangerous is because of the presence in it of dextromethorphan, also called DXM.

Some people use DXM to get high. It does produce a mind-altering sensation in high enough doses. However, to reach that point, you need to take far more of it than the bottle recommends.

Too much cough syrup can lead to elevated body temperature, heart palpitations, muscle twitches, dizziness, convulsions, and hallucinations. Again, the best way to avoid this sort of unpleasantness is to stick to the recommended dosage.

ACE Inhibitors

Doctors sometimes recommend ACE inhibitors for patients with high blood pressure. You can sometimes purchase them over the counter. These are drugs that help the body produce less angiotensin.

Angiotensin is a chemical that narrows the blood vessels. Generally, there’s nothing wrong with using an ACE inhibitor, as they have succeeded in lowering blood pressure for many individuals.

However, there is also the chance that some people might have an allergic-type reaction when they use them. They might experience angioedema.

This is a rapid swelling that takes place under the skin. It can lead to breathing difficulties and tongue or throat swelling.

It is relatively rare, but you should be aware of the possibility before you start using these drugs. If you do experience these reactions, then seek medical help immediately.

Caffeine Pills

Caffeine pills are legal virtually everywhere and in many different forms. Interestingly, caffeine is a highly addictive substance, yet no governing body has seriously considered restricting public access to it.

Caffeine is a part of daily life for many individuals, in the form of soda, tea, or coffee. In pill form, you can buy it in drugstores, grocery stores, or even gas stations.

If you’re going to use caffeine pills, do so sparingly. An overdose from too many caffeine pills is always possible. Use them as directed on the bottle.

You should also watch for side effects such as breathing problems, confusion, convulsions, fever, hallucinations, dizziness, or vomiting. If any of that happens, seek medical help, and discontinue use of the pills immediately.

Some other over the counter medications where severe side effects might be possible include laxatives. They might be widely available without a prescription, but they can still be quite powerful, so only use them as the packaging directs.

You should also watch your intake of motion sickness pills. If you take too many of them, you can experience agitation, depression, stomach or eye pain, amnesia, or nausea. You can even slip into a coma if you take enough of them.

In all circumstances, take medication only as directed, even the over the counter varieties. If you have questions about whether a substance is safe for you because of a preexisting condition, consult your doctor before using it.