We asked a small sample of GT readers and colleagues to name the over-the-counter medications they pack when traveling. Here are the 10 most popular, listed with their generic and brand names as well as their generic names in Spanish and French. Some have many brand names; limited space prevented our listing them all.
A note on traveling with medications: Bring an adequate supply of the ones you need in their labeled containers. Read and follow dosage directions to understand the risks and benefits and avoid serious side effects. For information, visit www.medicinenet.com.
1. Loperamide (Imodium, Pepto Diarrhea Control)
Fr. lopéramide; Sp. lopéramida | Tablet, capsule, liquid. Controls diarrhea.
Usually taken immediately after each loose bowel movement, loperamide can also be taken on a schedule for chronic diarrhea with a doctor’s supervision. If symptoms remain after two days (10 days for chronic diarrhea) or if you develop fever or bloody stools, call your doctor. Drink water to replace fluids lost with diarrhea.
2. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin)
Fr. ibuprofène; Sp. ibuprofeno | Tablet, chewable tablet, liquid, drops. Reduces fever, relieves mild pain and inflammation.
Ibuprofen is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which stops the body’s production of a substance that causes pain, fever and inflammation. Take with food to prevent stomach upset and gastrointestinal bleeding.
3. Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Fr. paracetamol; Sp. acetaminofen | Tablet, capsule, liquid. Reduces fever, relieves mild to moderate pain.
Acetaminophen has many potential side effects including unintentional overdose and liver failure. Never take it before or after consuming alcohol; it can cause liver damage or failure. The maker of Tylenol recommends not exceeding the total dose of 4.0 g. in 24 hours; many physicians recommend no more than 2.4 g. in 24 hours since it can be so toxic to the liver. Be aware of other prescription and OTC medications such as cold remedies that contain acetaminophen; it can be lethal in accumulative doses.
4. Acetylsalicylic acid (Bayer Aspirin)
Fr. aspirine; Sp. aspirina | Tablet, chewable tablet, caplet, gelcap. Reduces fever and inflammation, relieves mild to moderate pain.
Acetylsalicylic acid is sometimes used to treat or prevent heart attacks, strokes and angina; but only take on this regimen under a doctor’s care. The FDA states that one-half of a regular-strength aspirin tablet reduces the risk of death by up to 23 percent if administered when a heart attack is suspected and continued for 30 days — a good reason to travel with aspirin at all times. Side effects include gastrointestinal bleeding; some people are allergic to aspirin. Take with food to prevent stomach irritation and bleeding.
5. Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)
Fr. bismuth subsalicylate; Sp. bismuth subsalicylate | Tablet, chewable tablet, liquid. Treats diarrhea, heartburn, upset stomach in adults and children 12 and older.
Bismuth subsalicylate decreases the flow of fluids and electrolytes into the bowel, reduces intestinal inflammation and may kill organisms that cause diarrhea. If symptoms worsen or last longer than 48 hours, stop taking this medication and call your doctor.
6. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
Fr. diphénhydramine; Sp. difenhidramina | Tablet, capsule or liquid by mouth; cream or spray for external use. Antihistamine.
Diphenhydramine relieves symptoms of allergies and colds and cough caused by minor throat irritation, and prevents and treats motion sickness and insomnia. Creams treat itching or swelling due to stings, bites or poison ivy. Do not use to induce sleepiness in children.
7. Calcium carbonate (TUMS)
Fr. carbonate de calcium; Sp. carbonato cálcico | Tablet, chewable tablet, capsule, liquid. Dietary calcium supplement; as an antacid relieves heartburn, acid indigestion and upset stomach.
Take exactly as directed. As a dietary supplement, take it with food. Do not use it as an antacid for more than two weeks unless your doctor advises it. Do not take it within one to two hours of other medicines; calcium may decrease their effectiveness.
8. Hydrocortisone cream (Cortaid)
Fr. cortisol; Sp. hidrocortisona | Ointment, cream, lotion, liquid, gel, cloth towelette and spray for the skin; foam, cream suppositories, ointment and paste for use in the mouth. Temporarily relieves minor skin irritations and the discomfort of mouth sores.
Hydrocortisone is effective in relieving itching and rashes caused by eczema; insect bites; poison ivy, oak and sumac; or soaps, detergents, cosmetics and jewelry; as well as itching and irritation of the scalp. It is usually used one to four times a day for skin problems.
9. Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine, Driminate)
Fr. diménhydrinate; Sp. dimenhidrinato | Tablet, chewable tablet. Prevents and treats nausea, vomiting, dizziness of motion sickness.
This antihistamine prevents problems with body balance. For motion sickness, begin taking 30–60 minutes before travel or a motion activity. Dimenhydrinate is also used to treat Ménière’s disease (a condition of the inner ear which causes extreme dizziness, loss of balance, ringing in the ears and hearing loss) and vertigo.
10. Oxymetazoline (Afrin Nasal Spray)
Fr. oxymetazoline; Sp. oxymetazoline | Nasal spray. Provides temporary relief of nasal congestion.
Oxymetazoline causes the blood vessels lining the nasal passages to constrict. Avoid excessive use; blood vessels can swell after the effects wear off, causing more congestion. Many OTC cold remedies include oxymetazoline.
Travelers surveyed also cited saline nasal spray and eye drops to combat dryness in planes and hotels, sleep aids such as Tylenol PM, cold and sinus products, allergy eye drops, Alka-Seltzer for upset stomach or hangover, Excedrin for migraines, Airborne and vitamins to fight colds, Zantac and Pepcid for acid indigestion, sunscreen and Neosporin ointment.
The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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