What types of OTC drugs treat nausea and vomiting?
Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are medicines you can buy without a prescription from your doctor. Medicines for nausea are called antiemetic drugs. They can help relieve nausea and vomiting. Several OTC medicines are used as antiemetics.
Bismuth subsalicylate (some brand names: Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol) may help treat some types of nausea and vomiting, such as from gastroenteritis (also called “stomach flu”). It’s also used for upset stomach and as an antidiarrheal (medicine to treat diarrhea).
Certain antihistamines may help prevent nausea and vomiting caused by motion sickness. These include dimenhydrinate (brand name: Dramamine) and meclizine hydrochloride (brand name: Dramamine Less Drowsy).
How do antiemetic drugs work?
Bismuth subsalicylate works by protecting the stomach lining.
Antihistamines appear to dull the inner ear’s ability to sense motion. They “block” messages to the part of the brain that controls nausea and vomiting. This is why they work best if you take them before you think you might have a problem with motion sickness.
What are some common side effects of antiemetic drugs?
Healthy adults usually don’t experience side effects from antiemetic medicines. Side effects can be a concern for older adults or people who have health problems.
The most common side effects of bismuth subsalicylate are darkened stools or tongue, constipation and a ringing sound in the ears (tinnitus). These are short-term side effects.
Antihistamines may make you feel sleepy. This can affect your ability to drive or operate machines. It can make it hard for you to think clearly. They may also cause your mouth and eyes to feel dry. Alcohol can increase the drowsiness caused by antihistamines.
Who shouldn’t take antiemetic drugs?
Don’t take bismuth subsalicylate if you’ve ever had an allergy to aspirin or any other product that contains salicylates. Also, don’t give bismuth subsalicylate to children 12 years of age or younger, or to children and teenagers 12 years to 18 years of age who may have the flu or chickenpox, because of an increased risk of Reye’s syndrome.
Can OTC antiemetic drugs cause problems with any other medicines I take?
Bismuth subsalicylate may affect some drugs so that they don’t work as well. It also may cause side effects if combined with other drugs. If you take any of the following drugs, talk to your doctor before taking bismuth subsalicylate:
- Blood-thinning drugs
- Drugs to treat gout
- Drugs to treat arthritis
- Drugs for diabetes
Also, be careful not to “double up” on salicylate. Some pain relievers, cold medicines and prescription drugs contain aspirin, which is a salicylate, or some other type of salicylate. Because bismuth subsalicylate also contains salicylate, you may take more salicylate than you intend if you take more than one of these products.
Talk to your doctor before taking an antihistamine if you take sleeping pills, sedatives or muscle relaxants. Many OTC cold and allergy products contain antihistamines. If you take more than one of these products, you may take more antihistamine than you intend. Some prescription drugs have side effects similar to the side effects of antihistamines (including dry mouth and drowsiness), so you should also talk with your doctor before taking these medicines at the same time.
Should I talk to my doctor for any other reason before taking these drugs?
Before taking an antihistamine, talk to your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
- Trouble urinating (from an enlarged prostate gland)
- Breathing problems, such as asthma, emphysema or chronic bronchitis
- Thyroid disease
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
Funding and support for this material have been provided by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff