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OTC Topical Medications: Safe Treatment for Pain?

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A reader asks: "Is it safe to use nonprescription topical medication for my joint and muscle pain?"  Here's our advice.

Usually, yes, but be sure to check the ingredients on the packaging -- or ask your pharmacist for a product that won't damage your skin.

The Food and Drug Administration warns that some over-the-counter topical medicines used for joint and muscle pain can cause serious chemical burns.

These products, applied to the skin, contain menthol, methyl salicylate or capsaicin as the active ingredient. These products come as ointments, lotions, creams or patches and cause a cooling or warming sensation when applied. They are not supposed to cause burning or tingling. The most serious injuries have been second- and third-degree burns, most often caused by products containing menthol, methyl salicylate or a combination of the two.

Though there's a potential for harm, the actual occurrence is rare. You don't need to stop using these products if they work for you. You do need to be aware of any unusual reaction, including any tingling or burning or other sign of damage such as blisters or swelling. If you notice one, stop using the product and seek immediate medical help.

 To reduce your risk of injury:

  • Don't use tight wraps or bandages on the area after applying the medicine.
  • Don't use heating pads, heat lamps or other sources of added heat.
  • Avoid applying the medicine to damaged skin or to areas such as your eyes or mouth.


Posted in Back Pain on November 11, 2015

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

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