Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Alcohol is in many common products

Consumers are often unaware that hundreds of liquid preparations — prescription and over-the-counter medications, and personal-care products — contain alcohol. This can be a problem because alcohol is a sedative and in sufficient quantity can cause sleepiness, a fact noted on the label of medications containing alcohol. Also, the alcohol can react with medications taken for other conditions and result in serious consequences.

Alcohol (ethanol, as opposed to isopropyl, which is in some topical formulations) is added because it easily dissolves ingredients and gives the product a longer shelf life. The amount of ethanol in a product can range from 1 percent to 80 percent. Mouthwashes, for example, can contain up to 25 percent alcohol. The Food and Drug Administration requires that all active and inactive ingredients be listed on the product label.

Patients taking the prescription medication disulfiram (Antabuse) to control their consumption of alcoholic beverages have to be very careful to not ingest any products containing alcohol. Disulfiram, when mixed with alcohol, causes an extremely unpleasant experience. Within 10 minutes of mixing the two, nausea, vomiting, intense flushing, headache, increased heart rate and a drop in blood pressure can occur and last for hours. This reaction has occurred with as little as one tablespoon of some cough medication.

Although not as common, application of topical products containing alcohol also can cause this reaction. Patients are told to avoid aftershaves, perfumes, mouthwash, shampoo and any other product that contains alcohol. This reaction can occur up to 14 days after discontinuing disulfiram therapy.

Metronidazole (Flagyl) is a commonly prescribed antibiotic which may cause a disulfiram-like reaction when combined with alcohol. Patients are warned to avoid alcohol during and 72 hours after therapy. This reaction has been reported with the intravenous, oral and vaginal dosage forms.

Because alcohol is so widely used in many liquid medications — pain relievers, laxatives, antidiarrheals, iron, cough-cold-allergy, vitamins, canker sore and toothache products — consumers should be on the lookout and always read labels. If more information is needed about specific alcohol content, check the package for a toll-free number and talk with the manufacturer, or ask your pharmacist.
source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

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