There is one over-the-counter drug that teens and kids need to be especially careful about taking: aspirin. Aspirin is one of the most common OTCs, but if kids or teens take it while they have a cold, flu, or chicken pox, they could develop Reye's Syndrome. Although fairly rare, Reye's Syndromes can be fatal if not diagnosed early, and can have severe long-term effects. Doctors are unsure as to the exact causes of Reye syndrome, but it is characterized internally by a buildup of fat in the liver (leaving it bright yellow and slightly enlarged), misshapen kidneys, higher than normal levels of enzymes, ammonia in the blood, and a swollen brain.

The disease usually ocurs as children (the majority of Reye's Syndrome victims are 15 years old or younger) are recovering from one of the three mentioned illnesses, and it has six stages of progression. The disease can reach its peak anywhere within hours to days of onset. In the first three stages (pre-comatose), the victim becomes lethargic, delusional, and combative, but is still responsive. Other early symptoms include nausea, vomiting (often severe), fever, restlessness, and violence. As the disease moves into the second three stages, heart and lung functions slow, and the person becomes unresponsive as they fall into a coma.

If not diagnosed and treated early, people who contract Reye's Syndrome can die. If they survive, they can be left with serious problems like neurological disorders, mental retardation, or problems with speech. Therefore, it is extremely important that kids and teens do not take aspirin while they are suffering from a cold, the flu, or chicken pox.

However, everyone should be careful when taking any OTC drug. Reading the label only takes about five minutes, but those five minutes can save you from serious complications. The fact that anyone can buy a drug over-the-counter without seeing a doctor does not mean that you do not need to take the same precautions you would for a prescription drug. On the contrary, you need to consider all possible side effects and interactions your new medicine could cause before you begin taking it to avoid serious health complications.

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