Patients suffering from chronic diseases such as asthma,
diabetes and heart disease should think twice about the type of
over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu medication they choose, warns Pharma
Each year in SA, about five million people contract
influenza and 9 500 people die from causes related to the flu according to the
National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). General complications from
a cold or flu can include bacterial pneumonia and a worsening of chronic
medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.
Mariska Fouche, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, one of
SA’s leading providers of generic cold and flu medication, says when certain
colds and flu drugs are taken in combination with other chronic medications, it
could lead to serious complications.
“What is most alarming is that while most South Africans
choose to self-medicate a cold and flu these days, very few are familiar with
the active ingredients in cough, cold or flu pharmaceuticals and how these
interact with their chronic drug regime.”
Fouche lists the
following medications to watch out for because of possible drug interactions.
“Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are stimulants and should
be avoided if you suffer from diabetes, heart disease, thyroid disease or
glaucoma. These products interfere with blood pressure medications and can
cause erratic heart palpitations and raise your blood pressure, which can be
extremely dangerous when you suffer from these conditions.
“Stimulants are often used in cold and flu medication
because of their nasal decongestive properties but have a major adverse effect
on patients suffering from high blood pressure.
Potentially dangerous cocktail
“If you consider that almost three in 10 adults in SA – 6.3
million people – have high blood pressure, they could be mixing a potentially
dangerous cocktail when taking the wrong cold and flu remedies, so be sure to
read the label first of every OTC medication or speak to a pharmacist before
making the purchase,” she advises.
For those with sensitive stomachs, Fouche suggests opting
for an over-the-counter cold and flu drug that doesn’t contain aspirin.
“Aspirin is known to irritate the stomach lining. Most cold
and flu medications contain a general pain reliever for aches and pains
associated with the condition, so rather choose a remedy which contains
“Diabetics always need to look for alcohol- and sugar-free
cold and flu medications, containing artificial sweeteners such as aspartame
and sorbitol which are generally considered to be safe for patients with
Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen should also be avoided and
diabetics are advised to always monitor their blood glucose levels more closely
when taking cold and flu medication or any OTC medication for that matter.
“Saline nasal sprays and antihistamines are also safe
options to relieve nasal congestion and for those who prefer herbal remedies
rather steer clear of Echinacea if you are on methotrexate for the treatment of
rheumatoid arthritis or corticosteroids for any reason.
“Efferflu C is a widely used OTC cold and flu drug and is
recommended by doctors and pharmacists as safe in patients suffering from heart
disease, asthma, stomach ulcers and diabetes.
“However if you take medication for any chronic ailment,
always check in with your doctor if your cold symptoms last longer than 10 days
or if you develop a fever of over 38°C, a sinus headache, earache, thick green
nasal discharge or phlegm, or a cough that doesn’t go away after your other
cold symptoms subside,” says Fouche.