Colds and flu

Updated 12 October 2017

Take care with over-the-counter medication

Patients suffering from chronic diseases should think twice about the type of over-the-counter cold and flu medication they choose.

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 Dynamics.

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 paracetamol instead.

“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 diabetes.”

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.


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Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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