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FDA warns some over-the-counter meds may impair driving

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The use of some common over-the counter medications may make you too drowsy to drive safely, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautioned consumers on Tuesday.

Some of the most common over-the-counter medicines that can cause drowsiness and impaired driving include antihistamines -- used to treat symptoms like runny nose and sneezing -- as well as antidiarrheals and anti-emetics -- medicines that treat nausea , vomiting and dizziness related to motion sickness, according to the FDA's website.

"You can feel the effects some OTC [over-the-counter] medicines can have on your driving for a short time after you take them, or their effects can last for several hours," Dr. Ali Mohamadi, a medical officer at FDA, said in a statement. "In some cases, a medicine can cause significant 'hangover-like' effects and affect your driving even the next day."

"If you have not had enough sleep, taking medicine with a side effect that causes drowsiness can add to the sleepiness and fatigue you may already feel," he said. "Being drowsy behind the wheel is dangerous; it can impair your driving skills."

It is important to read all the sections of the Drug Facts label before using any over-the-counter medication, the FDA advises.

Read the "active ingredients" section of the label and compare it to any other medications you may be taking, to make sure you're not accidentally doubling up on medicines with the same active ingredient.

The "warnings" section of the label will let you know whether the medicine should not be used with any condition you may have, or whether you should ask a doctor first. Check if there is a warning on the label that specifies when you should not use the medicine at all, or when you should stop using it.

Under the heading, "When using this product," the label will tell you how the medicine might make you feel, and will include warnings about drowsiness or impaired driving.

The FDA advises that drivers watch out for statements as "you may get drowsy," "marked drowsiness will occur," "Be careful when driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery" or "Do not drive a motor vehicle or operate machinery when using this product."

Other information to look for on the label is how the medicine may interact with other products like alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers, and other effects the over-the-counter medicine could have on you.

"When you see any of these statements and you're going to drive or operate machinery, you may want to consider choosing another medicine for your problem this time," the agency says on its website, advising that, in this situation, people should look for an alternative that doesn't cause drowsiness. It suggests asking a doctor or other health care professional for help making the right choice.

"If you don't read all your medicine labels and choose and use them carefully, you can risk your safety," Mohamadi said. "If your driving is impaired, you could risk your safety, and the safety of your passengers and others."