My aunt recently confessed to me that she and my uncle occasionally have taken each other's medications by mistake. That scared me a bit because they don't share any of the same ailments, but she told me that they have never experienced any ill effects.

Jay Schauben, PharmD, director of the Florida Poison Information Center in Jacksonville, says that mistakes like this are not unusual-but they're not always risk-free.

People who think that they may have taken the wrong medicine-or too high a dose-should immediately call the free National Poison Hotline,800-222-1222. Callers are connected to the nearest poison center. Dr. Schauben notes that poison centers can resolve more than 80% of callers' questions over the phone.

Even better than treatment, of course, is preventing the problem in the first place. Among the common- and potentially dangerous- mistakes that people make with their medicine...

Taking several over-the-counter (OTC) medications that have the same or similar active ingredients.

Examples: Sudafed and Nyquil both have pseudoephedrine Benadryl and Tylenol PM have diphenhydramine.

Always check the labels. When in doubt, consult a pharmacist.

Measuring liquid medications incorrectly. Tableware is not for measuring medications. The most accurate measuring devices are oral dosage syringes, calibrated medicine droppers and similar products. Some pharmacies distribute them free.

Not shaking suspensions before each use. Certain medicines are mixed with-but not dissolved in-liquids, so the medicine particles settle to the bottom. If the suspension is not shaken before each use, the initial doses will contain too little medicine-and the later doses, too much. When in doubt, shake.

Chewing or crushing tablets or capsules. if the integrity of the tablet or capsule is destroyed, the medication may enter the bloodstream too quickly, potentially heightening its effect in the short term and decreasing its effect later on.

Taking medications twice. It's easy to get confused about whether or not you have taken a pill. Checking it off on a list or calendar can be helpful-but Dr. Schauben suggests that people who take multiple medications use a plastic medicine box that has compartments labeled for various times of the day and different days of the week. They're sold at most drugstores.

Not clarifying which parent is responsible for medicating a child-or which caregiver is responsible for medicating an adult. This can lead to double dosing or missed doses.

Taking medication in the dark-or in a hurry. Read labels carefully.

Chances are that nothing terrible will happen from one wrong dose...but why take the risk?

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