5 OTC Drugs for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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What to Keep in Your Medicine Cabinet with Fibromyalgia & ME/CFS

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You probably gave up on over the counter (OTC) drugs long ago, at least when it comes to managing the major symptoms of fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS). When it comes to some of our other symptoms, though, OTC meds might actually be able to help.

The following drugs haven't been tested for these illnesses, but they're known to treat certain symptoms in the general population. As with any treatment, it may or may not be the best way for you to go. Make sure you check with your doctor and pharmacist about drug interactions! Just because you can buy it in a grocery store doesn't mean it's always safe.

Now, here's a look at a few symptoms that just might benefit from OTC drugs.

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#1 - Benadryl for Allergies

P.E. Reed

A lot of us with FMS and ME/CFS have allergies, and allergic reactions can make our symptoms worse. Some doctors believe that we're more prone to food allergies, and allergies that change over time.

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is a good drug to have on hand in case of a serious allergic reaction. For a severe reaction, especially if you're having trouble breathing, get immediate medical help.

In the months before my FMS was diagnosed, I had a really strange bout of extreme allergies that my rheumatologist later said was likely part of the FMS onset. I went to the ER twice in anaphylaxis and during the first trip, the first thing they gave me was Benadryl. I started carrying it in my purse after that and took it right away when the second attack happened. I was grateful I had, since it took more than an hour to get treatment in the ER that time.

Diphenhydramine also is the active ingredient in some OTC sleep aids, so it may help with insomnia, too. However, it's sedative effect can make it less than ideal during the day.

If you're already on a regular allergy medication, be sure to ask your doctor/pharmacist about what's safe for you to take if you have a severe reaction to something.

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#2 - Bonine or Dramamine for Dizziness

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Dizziness (vertigo) is another common symptom of FMS and ME/CFS, and it's one that can be really debilitating. Motion sickness drugs such as Bonine (meclizine) and Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) can help control dizzy spells and keep you functional.

Vertigo is the feeling that the world is spinning around you. It's different from the light-headedness that makes you feel like you're about to faint, or that you get upon standing.

(If you frequently get light headed upon standing, it may be due to temporary low blood flow to the brain. You may want to ask your doctor about orthostatic intolerance, which is common in us.)

These drugs also are antihistamines, so check with your doctor of pharmacist before combining them with other allergy medications.

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#3 - Saline Nasal Spray for Congestion

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Along with allergies, non-allergy rhinitis is a common cause of nasal congestion. That congestion can lead to sinus headaches, facial pain, and problems sleeping -- all of which can exacerbate your symptoms.

A saline nasal spray, when used regularly, can help you keep your sinuses clear. For times when the saline isn't enough, you may want to talk to your doctor about a prescription nasal spray such as Nasarel (flunisolide) or Flonase (fluticasone).

Also see: Allergies vs. Non-Allergy Rhinitis in FMS & ME/CFS

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#4 - Anti-Itch Creams to Prevent Scratching

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Itching can be an especially annoying symptom of FMS and ME/CFS. Sometimes, your skin might itch for no obvious reason, and when your skin that is dry or irritated you'll likely feel a stronger itch than someone else would.

Itching is not only bothersome, but it can be an added sleep disruption. Also, vigorous scratching can trigger a pain response in people with FMS. I can't count how many times I've absently scratched an itch in a sensitive area, only to regret it moments later as the pain swells.

Anti-itch creams or sprays that contain diphenhydramine (the drug in Benadryl) can stop itches caused by bug bites, allergies, or other skin irritants.

For the itch caused by dry skin, try a fragrance-free lotion. For an unexplained itch, you may find relief from a cold compress or gentle rubbing.

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#5 - Anti-Diarrhea Medication

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Diarrhea, and the bloating and discomfort that come with it, are common in people with FMS and ME/CFS because of the association with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.

Anti-diarrhea drugs, such as Imodium (loperamide), can help you control this symptom with few side effects. If you still have diarrhea after taking Imodium, or if you're taking Imodium regularly, you should talk to your doctor. You might need to look at what dietary and lifestyle changes you can make in order to manage IBS symptoms.

Diarrhea can also dehydrate you, so make sure to get plenty of fluids.

Sources:

Allergy Proceedings: The Official Journal of Regional and State Allergy Associations. 1992 Sep-Oct;13(5):263-7. "Chronic rhinitis: an underrecognized association with fibromyalgia."

Baker, D. "Loperamide: a pharmacological review." Reviews in Gastroenterological Disorders 2007:S11-S18.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Symptoms".

Hanauer, S. Reviews in gastroenterological disorders. 2008 Winter;8(1):15-20. The role of loperamide in gastrointestinal disorders.

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