Cold Meds Got You Anxious? Know Your Ingredients!
Happy cold and flu season!
Well, um, minus the “happy” part.
I’m on day 5 of the nastiest cold I’ve had in years. It started back on Sunday with a general feeling of unease and sleepiness. Then, on Monday, the sore throat. Tuesday, the sniffles and lots of sneezes. Wednesday, a full-fledged sinus blowout. (Ew?)
And today: my nose is raw and bright pink. I’m hacking up an unspeakable amount of mucus. Oh, and I can’t taste much. Not that I’m too hungry, anyway. (And I’m guessing you’re not hungry either, at least right now, after reading a phrase like “unspeakable amount of mucus”.)
So, to make the past few days more tolerable, I’ve been hitting up the medicine cabinet — but staying mindful about what I put into my body. Like many other panic sufferers, I’m always a bit nervous when I take any sort of medicine. What if it makes me hyper? What if it makes me nervous? What if it makes me uncomfortably sleepy? What if it makes me panic?
We’re a physiologically sensitive bunch, and even minute changes in our body’s state can set us off. Right?
I want relief, but not if the cost for that relief is panic.
Many of us are used to relying on a brand-name substance to treat our cold and flu symptoms. There’s NyQuil. There’s Comtrex. There’s Triaminic and Dimetapp for the little ones.
But each of these medicines are made up of one (or more) active ingredient. There’s no such drug as “NyQuil” — that bitter greenish liquid is simply a combination of acetaminophen (Tylenol), dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant), and doxylamine succinate (a sedating antihistamine).
So, why is this important? Why should you get into the habit of reading about the active ingredients in our cold medicines?
Well, it might save you from unwelcome anxiety. Not all of those ingredients are innocuous — especially for us panic sufferers. Below, learn about the most common active ingredients in cold meds and make an informed choice while you’re browsing the Cough & Cold aisle at the pharmacy:
Dextromethorphan: If you’ve got a brand-name medicine that’s followed by “DM”, you’ve probably got dextromethorphan. It works as a cough suppressant and can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, nervousness, and restlessness.
Guaifenesin: You’ll frequently find both dextromethorphan and guaifenesin used together in the same product. While dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant, guaifenesin is an expectorant. In other words, the former stops your coughing and the latter increases it (which is useful if you need to get a bunch of yuck out of your lungs). This medicine doesn’t seem to have many side effects that would trigger anxiety.
Pseudoephedrine: This is the stuff that’s only available from the behind the pharmacy counter these days. You don’t need a prescription for it, but most states require that you swipe a driver’s license in order to buy it. It’s one of two popular decongestants that might be in your “-D” medicine — Allegra-D, Claritin-D, and so on. Some of the possible side effects include restlessness and nervousness — and for this reason, I like to avoid pseudoephedrine unless I’m really suffering. As a panic sufferer, I find it to be an uncomfortably stimulating medicine.
Phenylephrine: This is the other nasal decongestant. The side effect profile on US National Library of Medicine’s website is a bit more sparse than the profile for pseudoephedrine. But is it even effective? Some researchers at the University of Florida think not.
Antihistamines: I’m not going to bother listing each one individually because there are so many of them in common cold medicines. They’re used to relieve stuffy and sniffle-y noses. There’s diphenhydramine (Benedryl), doxylamine, brompheniramine…heck, I’ll just refer you to Wikipedia’s nice long list of antihistamines. These types of drugs tend to be sedating — some prescription antihistamines, like hydroxyzine, are even used to treat anxiety — so if sleepiness is a panic trigger for you, take note.
Now for the obvious statement: everyone’s body is different. Whatever medicine is likely to trigger my own panic response might quash yours. So, don’t look at this list with fear — instead, take it as a friendly nudge to become more mindful about the medicines you take. We can all benefit from learning more about what we choose to put inside our bodies.
And for those of us with anxiety disorders, there are three particular benefits to this awareness:
First, we can avoid accidental double-dosing if you’re taking two cold medicines at once. If you aren’t aware that both NyQuil and Tylenol contain acetaminophen, you may risk taking double the recommended dose of acetaminophen if you use both medicines before bed. (And that’s not good for your liver.)
Second, through trial and error, you can learn which active ingredients make you feel uncomfortable. If you experience high anxiety after taking, say, DayQuil Mucus Control DM, you can look at the label and see that the two active ingredients are dextromethorphan and guaifenesin (a cough expectorant). Next time, you can try a medicine that only contains dextromethophan (like Duract) or one that only contains guaifenesin (like some varieties of Mucinex). Pharmacists are great resources if you need to find an OTC cold product that only contains the active ingredients that you’re looking for.
Third, getting to know the ingredients in your cold medicine gives you a greater sense of control over your illness. Knowing the effect that a specific medicine has on your body can be comforting — instead of attributing a mild sense of wooziness to an impending panic attack, wouldn’t it be nice to sit back and say with confidence that you KNOW diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) makes you feel this way? You know it’s the medicine, and it might be uncomfortable — but it doesn’t signify anything. Isn’t that a comforting thought?
If you get to know how each of these ingredients personally affects your body, you can more easily come to terms with how they make you feel.
And on that note, it’s time for me to take some NyQuil and get the heck back to bed.
photo credit: MoHotta18
photo credit: …-Wink-…
What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like
We have all been in situations that make us anxious – perhaps going to the dentist or getting interviewed by a panel of CEOs for a top job or preparing to make a speech in front of a huge crowd. These feelings of unease or nervousness are usually normal when you are facing a threatening situation or when you are dealing with something that is likely to have a huge impact in your life. Such anxiety can affect your normal functioning for a brief period of time and when the situation has passed, you’ll be your old self again. Most of us already know what does a panic attack feel like.
However, when your feelings of anxiety become grossly over exaggerated it can lead to panic attack symptoms. During a panic attack, your anxiety is so powerful that it completely takes control over your whole body. For instance, you may be at the bus stop waiting for your ride when you suddenly start sweating profusely, feel your heart pounding in your chest, and start hyperventilating. You may feel like you’re getting a heart attack, but then in a few minutes the feelings disappear and you return back to your normal self, feeling confused and frightened about what happened.
What Does a Panic Attack Feel Like?
Here are some real life experiences from people who have experienced a panic attack, courtesy Twitter.
When you go to eat your favorite cereal but it’s really snakes? – Kathryn Rose
Already panicking about what to wear when I go out. I haven’t looked in a full length mirror in about a month. – Gina Unsworth
I’m on my 3rd panic attack of the day. Hoping this subsides soon then bed. – Missy
My heart was racing & I felt powerless to stop it. It became harder to breath & I had pain in my chest. – IamtheHoneyMonkey
I’ve had 8 panic attacks in 3 days worrying about moving and the one I’ve had this morning made me almost vomit on the pavement. – Ash
Common Panic Attack Symptoms
Some common symptoms people experience when having a panic attack include, but are not limited to:
- Heavy pounding of your heart
- Profuse sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizziness and light-headedness as if you’re about to faint
- Fear about losing control of yourself
- Feel like you’re going crazy
- Hot flashes and cold chills; numbness/tingly feeling in your fingers/toes
- Feel as if you’re about to get a heart attack or die
When and Where Do Panic Attacks Happen?
Panic attacks happen in different situations for different people. It can happen at a very stressful time or it may hit you out of the blue when everything is perfectly normal. It can even happen at night when you’re asleep, leaving you sweaty and shaking when you wake up. The peak times that the first panic attack strikes is usually between the ages of 15 and 30 although it can hit kids and adults at any age. People who have experienced panic attacks usually find the incidents occur in specific situations such as when in a crowded place, when anticipating a major activity or event such as the birth of a baby, or when placed in a situation where they have to deal with their phobias such as when forced to enter closed spaces.
How Long Do Panic Attacks Last?
Most symptoms of panic attack last between 5 to 20 minutes and they usually peak within 10 minutes. In extreme cases, it can even last up to an hour. There’s no saying when panic attacks will repeat. While some people have never experienced it after the first attack, others have had recurring attacks several times a week.
What Can You Do About Panic Attacks
Having a panic attack can be a truly frightful experience. You may feel helpless and fearful never knowing if it will recur again and constantly staying in a state or worry over it. Thankfully, once you become aware of what is happening to you and why, you can find plenty of help at hand to deal with it. Panic attacks and anxiety related disorders are totally treatable and people can experience relief within a short time.
Cognitive/behavioral therapy is one successful way to treat the problem, but there are also other self-help techniques that you can try to cope with it. Talking to someone you trust or someone who has previously experienced panic attacks goes a long way in understanding and accepting the problem. You can try various breathing exercises to relax yourself and manage your anxiety. You can listen to peaceful music, distract yourself by thinking about pleasant thing or take your dog out for a walk. Avoiding stimulants and eating a healthy diet can also make a difference. Keep a diary and note down specifics of where and when these incidents occur so you can identify patterns and find ways to deal with them. Above everything else, tell yourself that you’re just having a panic attack, its not dangerous and you’re going to be okay.
A Word From Our Sponsor: 60 Second Panic Solution
Thank you for this helpful article. Whenever i start getting a panic attack i just stop what i’m doing and analyze what’s going on inside. Sometimes it lasts 5 minutes, sometimes up to 20 minutes but freaking out makes me feel worse so i try my best just to sit calmly and wait for it to finish.
Wonderful post! That is pretty much the same thing I’ve learned to do to stop panic attacks also. I still get the anxiety but nothing like the PAs. Thanks for sharing, it is right on!
I had panic attacks from a very early age. At 16 it got so bad I was having up to maybe 6 a day it became exhausting. Things like goin to the shop, getting on the bus, sitting in large classes, being on my own and the big one..night time. The symptoms are scary especially being short of breath. Everytime u think to yourself, okay this time I feel different so it’s not a panic attack there’s something wrong with me. These things are pure hell, it’s great to see more articles on this as many people don’t understand how these things can control a person’s life.
I found that reading your posts helps me alot. They are so exhausting it’s horrible. It’s always worse at night aswell. I find that coffee, fags and beer brings mine one.
I’m getting them again and now my left arm stays numb. Plus i get a bad headache afterwards…i was able to control them but they are stronger now…this article was helpful tho….
Left arm numbness can be a sign of a heart attack. You should probably have yourself checked by a dr if you haven’t already.
I thought I am the only suffering from fear.Since my early twenties I have been scared of cars and buses.When the rain is raining i think of floods and think of it my last day.
My panic attacks have come back out of the blue and they last nearly an hr. I’ve tried a lot of these things but still can’t seem to cope with them. I hate not being in control.
Does anyone else have high blood pressure while having a panic attack? My left arm goes completely numb, BP reaches 190 over 100. I’m scared of having a stroke while having a panic attack.
I am 25 and just had my first panic attack of my life. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was sweating profusely. Luckily I had a friend with me who fanned me and talked me through it. When I was finally able to catch my breath my eye was twitching and the right side of my face was numb as well as my lips. I thought I was having a severe allergic reaction to something and almost went to the ER. After about 10 minutes i was able to open my eyes and talk normally again. It was so scary. I hope something like this never happens again..
Im 36 and experienced the same thing . I thought I was having a sezier with rapid eye movements perticually my rt eye . lips and tongue went numb but an ambo was called and I went to the er where they did an ECG that was fine and I was told it was a severe panic attack on top of withdraws from missed meds and anxiety, never experienced it before and never want to again… yes I also had elevated blood pressure and still 4 days later my body is shaking….. dr put me on Alapam.. makes u reevaluate your life that’s for sure
When I get panic attacks I get dirirrah and vomiting real bad too .plus short of breath and real scared that I’m getting a heart attack and scared that what if I die here by my self and I start reading the bible and I starts wearing off and when i”s passes I feel real weak for the whole day.I notice When i started anxiety/panic attacks was when I started taking depression pills.
Breathing is key. If you can, just sit and breath deep and let it out, do it until the attack subsides. Works for me.
During my mid twenties I started having panic attacks which led me to become hyper sensitive to things going on in my body. It was a bad time in my life. The first relief I got from these attacks was from a doctor who specialized in biofeedback. After one session I was able to sleep at night. Not sure if anyone still practices this method but it was the only thing that aloud me to regain control.
I have had panic attacks since 1986 I use to have them at least 6 or 7 times a day they make my body feel funny my heart races I get clammy now my doctor gave me medicine to help calm it down when I know I am having one it is a scary feeling still
I have always had anxiety, but yesterday I had my first panick attack, that’s what the emergency room said. My arms and legs felt like lead, and I’m not seeing these symptoms here with anyone else. I was hyperventilating and my voice changed drastically. I thought I was having a stroke. Do these sound like a panic attack?
First panic attack, symptoms have lingered days after
Hi Barbie. To be honest I am not sure as I am not a doctor. Have you seen your primary care doctor? It may have been a panic attack but I might be concerned that it has lingered for so long. but I don’t know. I think you should talk to your primary care doctor and tell them your concerns. There may be no reason for concern but they could ease your mind. I hope you feel better soon.
I had my first panic attack recently and mine involved shaking all over so badly that I had to pull over to the side of the road (I was driving). My heart was pounding and I started to sweat. I felt faint and dizzy, too.
In my case it was the stress of driving after dark in the rain that caused my panic attack. I’m guessing that it was the stress of so many weddings in a row that caused yours. Of course, I could be wrong. The caffeine and lack of sleep could have something to do with it. I’m no expert. I just know that it was stress that triggered mine.
In my case, I was a little shaky the next day, but fine after that.
Hi Barbie, your symptoms are exactly like what I experience. It was reading my own diary of events. Ran myself too thin. Got dizzy fainty and shivering like I was in snow but perfectly warm. I had another random attack last night and super dizzy again today.
Ps also weird that we both ended our account names in 1111. Panic attack twinsies? Lol sorry I had to.
Hope you are better. I have thyroid issues so checking in with my doctor soon on any connection. Have you checked your thyroid out? Also adrenal fatigue possibilities.