The way to decide whether to take any drug is to weigh how you expect it to help against its side effects, risks, and cost. If you do this, you may find that it’s often better to take just one substance contained in a multi-symptom medication.
For example: Tylenol PM is a combination of two different medications: Acetominophen reduced pain and fever, and diphenhydramine treats allergy symptoms like itchy eyes, runny nose, and scratchy throat. One of the side effects of the allergy drug is drowsiness, which can be useful if you want to fall asleep.
Although the pain reliever acetominophen is a very safe and widely used medication, it can cause severe liver damage if you take too much. This is especially true if you take it with alcohol or if you already have liver disease. So the combination of acetominophen and diphenhydramine (Tylenol PM) makes sense if you have a headache and want to fall asleep. But for someone like you who just wants help going to sleep, it makes more sense to take diphenhydramine by itself. It is sold this way under the brand name Benadryl.
For the same reason, if a person has a headache or a fever and wants relief but doesn’t have allergy symptoms, or doesn’t want to feel drowsy, it would make better sense to take acetominophen alone–sold as Tylenol–than to take Tylenol PM. The drowsiness caused by the allergy medication can be a bothersome or even dangerous side effect in some situations–like when used by a school bus driver with allergies, who might become drowsy on the job.
The decision to take Tums also can be made by weighing the pros and cons. Unlike Tylenol PM, though, Tums is not a combination medication. It’s the brand name for calcium carbonate, which is frequently used to treat heartburn or taken as a source of calcium. It can cause nausea and constipation, but most people who take it don’t have any major side effects. Because of its significant benefits and lack of side effects, it’s often a very good medication for people with heartburn or who need extra calcium.
Please talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about the benefits, risks, side effects, or costs of specific medications. Remember, any medication can be dangerous if you take too much of it or if you take it too often. That’s why it’s important to read the package insert and follow directions carefully.