Top 5 Health and Medication Misconceptions

Here are the top 5 health and medication misconceptions that I have encountered as a pharmacist.

Have you heard that you can catch a cold from going outside when your hair is wet? If so, you’re not alone.

Here are the top 5 health and medication misconceptions that I have encountered as a pharmacist.

Misconception #1: You can catch a cold from cold air.

When it’s cold outside, we tend to stay indoors with our family, friends, and/or coworkers, and that’s what really increases your risk of becoming sick.

You can catch a cold in the following ways:

  • Someone with a cold sneezes, coughs, or blows his or her nose near you.
  • You touch your nose, eyes, or mouth after you have touched something contaminated by a cold virus, such as a table or doorknob.

Many different viruses can cause the common cold, but rhinoviruses are the most common. That being said, antibiotics won’t treat a cold because they don’t work against viruses. They may even make it harder for your body to fight future bacterial infections, especially if you take them incorrectly or when they’re not needed.

Misconception #2: Antibiotics should be taken as soon as you start sneezing.

As I stated above, antibiotics don’t treat viruses such as the common cold or flu, which is why your physician might not prescribe an antibiotic every time you feel sick. Furthermore, taking antibiotics when they are not needed can cause antibiotic resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance makes it harder to treat infections, as existing medications become less effective. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics have contributed to the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

When an antibiotic is used inappropriately, a small portion of the bacteria may survive as a result of random mutations. These survivors then reproduce, creating new generations of bacteria that can survive even when they’re exposed to an antibiotic. This results in antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics are powerful medications that fight bacterial infections, and when they’re used properly, they can save lives. However, antibiotics have been used widely for so long that many organisms have adapted to them, rendering them less effective.

Another related issue is stopping an antibiotic when you start to feel better. In order to ensure that you kill the bacteria you’re treating, it is extremely important to finish antibiotics even if you feel better.

Misconception #3: Brand-name drugs are more effective than their generic counterparts.

Because generic medications are cheaper, patients may believe that they won’t work as well as brand-name versions, but that simply isn’t the case.

The fact of the matter is that generic medications are bioequivalent to their brand-name counterparts. Generics are required to have the same active ingredient, strength, dosage form, and route of administration as the brand name. The only real difference is the inactive ingredients, which should not affect how the medication works.

The FDA monitors generic medications the same way they monitor brand-name ones. So, if you have the option to pay less money for a generic, it is okay to do so.

There are certain instances where switching from brand to generic or generic to brand may not be recommended, which include levothyroxine (Synthroid), digoxin (Lanoxin), and warfarin (Coumadin). If you take any of these medications, ask your prescriber which version is best.

Misconception #4: Natural medicines are safer than prescription medications, so they don’t have to be disclosed to the pharmacist.

Natural supplements may seem safer than prescription medications, but there are a few things to consider before you run out to the store and buy some.

The FDA regulates supplements as foods, rather than medications. This means that the manufacturers don’t have to prove that their products are effective, or even provide safety information.

In addition, the amount of each ingredient may be inconsistent between products. In fact, the New York State Attorney General’s office has accused several large retailers of selling supplements that don’t contain any of the herbs listed on their labels. Instead of containing Ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort, and valerian root, some of the products under investigation were found to contain ingredients like powdered rice, asparagus, houseplants, and even substances that could be dangerous for those with allergies.

Similar to prescription medications, natural supplements can also cause harmful side effects. Kava kava supplements are most often used for anxiety, but they can lead to liver damage, including hepatitis and liver failure.

Natural supplements can also interact with other medications. One good example of this is St. John’s wort, which is most often used for depression. In addition, some supplements and/or vitamins can affect the way your body absorbs and gets rid of other medications.

Therefore, when you’re asked what medications you’re currently taking, it is very important to mention any supplements and/or vitamins to your pharmacist. In addition, if you’re looking to take a natural supplement, ask your pharmacist which one is safe to use.

Misconception #5: OTC sleep aids are better than prescription sleep medications.

Although OTC sleep aids can help you fall asleep on the occasional sleepless night, there are a few things to consider.

Most OTC sleep aids contain antihistamines. For example, Unisom contains diphenhydramine, which is the active ingredient in Benadryl.

The fact that these sleep aids contain an antihistamine can pose several problems. For instance, most of the patients I consult are already taking an antihistamine for their allergies, and taking 2 antihistamines results in duplicate therapy that can lead to unwanted side effects.

In addition, taking these types of sleep aids for a long period of time can build tolerance to the sedative effects of antihistamines. In other words, the longer you take them, the less effective they become.

Taking these types of sleep aids can also result in feeling groggy the next morning, which can be dangerous for some patients, especially the elderly. Because of changes in their liver and kidney function, elderly patients process medications much slower and can ultimately experience side effects for longer periods of time.

Aside from sedation, antihistamine side effects may include dry mouth, dry eyes, blurred vision, constipation, dizziness, and even irritability. These medications can also cause urinary retention that can even lead to urinary tract infections. All of these side effects can pose several problems in the elderly, so they should be used with caution.

OTC medications taken as sleep aids are not indicated for long-term use. If you have trouble sleeping, try out the following good sleep habits instead:

  • Set a regular bedtime.
  • Try to wake up at the same time every day.
  • Turn off your television and computer before going to bed.
  • Make sure the room is dark.
  • Keep the room cool.

If you continue to have problems falling or staying asleep, talk to your physician. He or she can discuss the possibility of taking a prescription medication for insomnia.