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Is your medication safe for the workplace?

August 31, 2015
 / Safety / 

You are probably aware of what substances are strictly off-limits for use on the job. These include alcohol as well as anything not prescribed to you by your doctor. But there are many medications taken on a regular basis that are neither illegal nor prescribed, like cold medicine, painkillers, or drugs that treat allergies or stomach ailments. They are sold at every drugstore without the need for permission from a doctor, which can lead to the assumption that these drugs are 100 percent safe.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. The FDA has outlined a few types of medication known to cause drowsiness, thus impairing your ability to drive or operate heavy machinery. Construction workers should be aware of any medications they take and how they may impair operation of vehicles or equipment. Here are those medications listed in more detail:

"Construction workers should be aware of any medications they take and how they may impair operation of vehicles or equipment."

Allergy medication 
Many drugs used to treat allergies fall under a group of medications called antihistamines. One of the most common antihistamines is Benadryl, also sold in generic form as diphenhydramine. Benadryl works well at preventing or lessening allergic reactions, but it is also a potent sleep aid​, and therefore shouldn't be taken less than 12 hours before driving or operating heavy equipment. Other common antihistamines include Zyrtec (cetirizine), fexofenadine (Allegra) and loratadine (Claritin). These antihistamines have a much smaller potential to induce drowsiness, but a few have still reported it, so they should be used with caution.

Cough medicine 
One of the most common ingredients in cough medicine is dextromethorphan, a drug with drowsiness, dizziness and lightheadedness as common side effects. Dextromethorphan is often included in multisymptom cold medicine that may also list Benadryl (diphenhydramine) as an ingredient. You should use medication containing dextromethorphan carefully while on the job. If you are sick with a cold, you may want to consider staying home anyway.

Anti-diarrheals and anti-emetics 
These drugs can be taken to treat stomach illnesses and alleviate symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting. Immodium (loperamide) is a common anti-diarrheal medication. The most common anti-emetic is Dramamine (diphenhydrinate), used to treat motion sickness. The FDA warns that these drugs have the potential to cause drowsiness. If you experience motion sickness on the job, consider talking with a doctor to discuss your symptoms.

When taking any medication, safety should be a primary concern. Make sure to read the label of every medication you take before using it the first time and be aware of any listed side effects or interactions with other drugs. Take only the recommended dose and keep track of when you take it. The National Council on Patient Information and Education suggests keeping a record of all medications you take, whether they are prescribed or bought over the counter. This makes it easier to keep track of side effects, and can help your doctor plan treatment.

Understanding your rights
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, "generally, your health information cannot be used for purposes not directly related to your care without your permission." This includes sharing health records and medication information with your employer. If you think the medication you take interferes with your ability to complete your work safely, talk to your doctor first.

Staying healthy means taking full control of your own care. If you take medications, being informed helps you perform your job safely and effectively. Visit the HCSS website for information on how their construction safety systems can make things run even smoother.

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