Epilepsy Talk

Colds, Flu and You… | June 4, 2017

With all the colds and flu going around, it’s not easy to figure out which medications are safe to take.

Obviously, the best way to manage medication interactions is to avoid medications that are known to cause problems.

A few medicines that you pick up off the shelf at the drug store can potentially increase the frequency of seizures in people with epilepsy, or even cause first-time seizures.

The most common one of this kind is probably diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in medications like Benadryl, which is used for colds, allergies, and to promote sleep. If you have epilepsy, you should talk to your doctor before you use it.

You should also talk to your doctor before you start using any herbal medicines. 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.

Just check the label before purchasing any products.

Most cold medicines cause drowsiness, so it is recommended to start at the low dose.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the safest to use for fever and pain.

Aspirin is safe for most adults, but should be avoided by children and anyone using Depakote or Dilantin.

Ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) is another good drug for fever and pain but it can cause side-effects like dizziness and difficulty walking when used in combination with Dilantin.

Most antibiotics are problem-free when used with seizure medicines, but there are a few that cause problems.

Biaxin (clarithromycin), a frequently used antibiotic for colds and pneumonia, causes side-effects when used in combination with Tegretol.

So does erythromycin.

Cipro (ciprofloxacin) decreases blood levels of Dilantin and has been reported to increase seizure frequency.

Doxycycline is another commonly used medication that lowers the blood level of Tegretol and may make seizures more likely.

The new antiviral medications used for flu symptoms (Tamiflu and others) are reported to be safe with seizure medicines.

For colds, Robitussin DM, Mucinex) are approved.

The same for decongestants, pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), Afrin nasal spray, and normal saline nasal spray

Plus, Claritin and Zyrtec are considered non-sedating antihistamines.

However, no list of medication interactions is complete.

Doctors and pharmacists continue to learn of interactions between existing medications and new ones.

If you experience any symptoms from new or old medications used for cold or flu, make sure you report them to your doctor!

It is important that all your doctors (including your dentist) are aware that you have epilepsy.

This knowledge allows them to avoid prescribing any medication that may interact with your seizure medicine.

Consistently using the same pharmacy also helps screen for potential side-effects.

Providing the pharmacist with a list of over-the-counter medicines that you routinely use also helps.

It is recommended that all individuals with a chronic condition receive the flu vaccine, too.


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  1. I talk with my pharmacist. He or she are a good resource for over the counter medications and seizures


    Comment by Hector J Santos — June 4, 2017 @ 2:09 PM

    • Good advice.

      You might like this article, Hector:

      Why Your Pharmacist is Your Best Friend



      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 4, 2017 @ 3:04 PM

      • I tried several meds to rid my darn Flu ! I still have this darn Flu! I walk and ride the buses so im at high risk for the Flu! Is there a safe med to get rid of the Flu! I will try and ask the pharmacy later. I cant sleep nights after my operation hope i get there before it closes?


        Comment by rusty.hanawalt@yahoo.com — September 15, 2018 @ 1:22 PM

      • According to research: The new antiviral medications used for flu symptoms (Tamiflu and others) are reported to be safe with seizure medicines.

        But, as you said, it would be good to check with your pharmacist.

        BTW, when I can’t sleep, I take 10 MG of Melatonin.

        You can ask your pharmacist about that, too.


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 15, 2018 @ 1:54 PM

  2. Watch out for flavorings and artificial sweeteners (especially Aspartame) used in chewable or liquid versions of medications. Aspartame (in Children’s Chewable Allegra) provoked 3 seizures with violent vomiting in my son. However, Children’s Liquid Allegra (without Aspartame) was not a problem.


    Comment by Martha — June 4, 2017 @ 2:37 PM

  3. WHY ? knowing that these FDA drugs will have chemicals in them that can trigger seizures would anyone with a cold, virus, or flu bug take them ? I learned that the hard way, and now I use VITAMIN CODE / Garden Of Life brand of the following. ZINC, Vitamin C, & B Complex, The ZINC & C vitamin really helped me from going to see a doctor a few months ago. Also for the past 20 + years I drink a SUPERFOOD, made by Dr. Richard Shultz. http://www.herbdoc.com His healthy products are also good to use with NO chemicals in anything he makes, just the real food, herb & plant sources of all he makes things with. Also by staying away from all MSG & ASPARTAME, plus NITRATES & NITRITES types foods in my diet, my immune system stays STRONGER more days out of the year than less. So will yours if you care how your body feels & your brain will thank you too. But it’s PAYBACK time when a mistake is made & MSG gets in the body’s system, so then it is DANGER ZONE & a time span for a Grand Mal seizure that can or will happen, from the MSG’s Aspartame’s & alike, in foods, drinks & drugs.


    Comment by C D — June 4, 2017 @ 2:54 PM

  4. Good grief. Neuro told me none of this, of course. I take all of this stuff anyway without symptoms. Is the drug store a Little Shop of Horrors?


    Comment by Kate Jacques — June 4, 2017 @ 6:23 PM

  5. Is it okay to take ( NyQuil for some one with Epilepsy?


    Comment by Holly Ellis — June 13, 2017 @ 5:43 PM

    • No.

      For colds, Robitussin DM, Mucinex) are approved.

      The same for decongestants, pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), Afrin nasal spray, and normal saline nasal spray.

      Plus, Claritin and Zyrtec are considered non-sedating antihistamines.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 13, 2017 @ 8:13 PM

  6. There are some good natural products that actually do not interact with medications: Boiron products like Oscillococinum for flu, Chestal for Cold & Cough(with congestion), ColdCalm for Colds, and they have an array of other products too! I started taking these as recommended by my Functional Medicine aunt.


    Comment by trekkie80sgirl — June 14, 2017 @ 5:46 PM

  7. When I was taking Tegretol, Sudafed caused me to have seizures. Benadryl is safe, but it is used in sleeping pills. Ex. Tylenol PM. Please take at night. Always talk to your neuro and/or pharmacist, and build up a relationship with the pharmacist.


    Comment by megambon2164 — November 25, 2017 @ 8:43 AM

  8. FYI – I guess it depends on the person. Sudafed caused me to have seizures. However, I can take Benadryl and Mucinex. Benadryl makes me tired, so I take it at night. Kills 2 birds with one stone. 🙂


    Comment by megambon2164 — January 31, 2018 @ 3:28 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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