Check the Ingredients!

It’s easy for the eyes to glaze over when looking at the long words listed in the ingredients of cough and cold medications. Learning to recognize a few words, though, is an important skill to learn (and not that difficult). It may save your life.

An advisory committee of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that a common ingredient be reclassified as unsafe, because it has been shown to cause devastating strokes in a small but significant number of people — especially young women age 18-49 — sometimes from taking the drug only once.

The ingredient is phenylpropanolamine (PPA), still found in many common over-the-counter cold remedies and appetite suppressants. You probably have it in your home. When an oral medicine contains a decongestant, it will likely list either phenylpropanolamine or pseudoephedrine. While most people who take phenylpropanolamine have no problems, pseudoephedrine is both safer and more effective.

Learn to distinguish between the two.

Published on: October 24, 2000
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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