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Do over-the-counter (OTC) drugs affect seizures?

  • A few medicines that you can get without a prescription (called over-the-counter or OTC medicines) can potentially increase seizures in people with epilepsy. They could even trigger a seizure for the first time. The most common OTC medicine that could do this is probably diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in medicines like Benadryl, which is used for colds, allergies, and promoting sleep. 
  • Also, some OTC cold medicines may lower the threshold for seizures, for example cold medicines with pseudoephedrine. 
  • If you have epilepsy, ask your pharmacist or doctor for recommendations about using OTC medicines.

You should also talk to your doctor before you start using any herbal medicines. Just because they come from nature does not necessarily mean they are safe for you to use.

Other common medicines (even aspirin in some cases) can increase the unwanted side effects of your seizure medicines or increase seizures by changing the level of medication in your blood.

Learn More About Seizure Medicines

What OTC medications are considered safe for use by people with epilepsy?

  • Medicines for runny and stuffed noses containing pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine appear to be relatively safe, but there are reports of seizures caused by these drugs too. Read the labels and talk to your health care provider.
  • Nasal saline sprays are safe to use for runny or stuffed noses from allergies or colds.
  • For aches and pains, acetaminophen (such as Tylenol, Panadol, Excedrin Aspirin Free) is probably the safest medication.
  • Aspirin also appears safe, but it should not be given to children.

Find Your Local Epilepsy Foundation

Authored By: 
Steven Schachter MD
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Reviewed By: 
Elaine Wirrell MD
Friday, March 6, 2020