Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ask an Expert: Surprising Side Effects from Common Medications

This post is part of our “Ask an Expert” blog series. In this post, Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D and Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize, addresses some surprising side effects that can occur with commonly used medications. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital, and home care. Read his full bio, here.

While you might know that you can get discounted prices on your prescriptions through the FamilyWize free Rx prescription discount card, it’s important to think about  the side effects of the medicines you take. When most people think of the potential side effects of their prescription drugs, they tend to think of warnings to not operate heavy machinery (due to drowsiness) or to not take medication on an empty stomach (to avoid nausea). But, did you know that some commonly prescribed medications might also affect your hearing or eyesight?

Medications That May Affect Your Hearing
According to information from Consumer Reports, some 500,000 Americans face drug-related hearing loss each year. Several commonly used over-the-counter pain relievers, including aspirin, ibuprofen (e.g. Advil and Motrin), and naproxen (e.g. Aleve and Naprosyn) have been connected with temporary tinnitus and hearing loss.
Tinnitus is a ringing, buzzing, or roaring in the ear when no noise is present. The Mayo Clinic encourages anyone who develops tinnitus, or any disruption to his or her hearing, to visit a doctor – particularly if it develops suddenly or after a respiratory infection.

Certain antibiotics – including amikacin, kanamycin, neomycin, streptomycin, tobramycin – are connected with permanent hearing loss. It is important to note that these antibiotics are given either in the muscle (IM) or in the vein (IV) for very serious infections, and they are often lifesaving. If you notice any change in your senses while taking an antibiotic, speak to your doctor immediately. He or she may be able to change the dose to correct the problem or change medications to protect you from additional damage.

Medications That May Affect Your Vision
Medications can cause a variety of vision issues, from temporary blurred vision or double vision, to larger issues like cataracts or permanent optic nerve damage. Alpha-blockers (for high blood pressure or enlarged prostate), certain antibiotics, popular erectile dysfunction drugs, and some osteoporosis drugs have been known to cause blurred vision or double vision. Some alpha-blockers may also affect cataract surgery.

More seriously, corticosteroids, like prednisone, Medrol, and triamcinolone, which are used for allergies, autoimmune disorders, and a variety of other conditions – irrespective of how they are administered – can lead to cataracts. Even long-term use of inhaled and intranasal steroids can precipitate cataracts. Corticosteroids are often used for life-threatening diseases, so tell your doctor if you notice a change in vision.

If you notice any side effects related to your vision, or if you have a family history of or existing cataracts, speak to your pharmacist or doctor. Cataracts have a high treatment success rate (99.9 percent) and are treated with an outpatient procedure that is covered by Medicare and commercial insurance.

Side effects related to vision and hearing occur more rarely than drowsiness or stomach upset, but they still happen and must be quickly addressed.

Interested in more information? Check out the Food & Drug Administration’s consumer webpage for Learning about Side Effects. And to save money on your prescriptions, download the free prescription discount card from FamilyWize.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Photosensitivity: What it is and How to Stay Safe

At the end of spring, when warm weather looks like it is finally here to stay, store shelves are lined with an overwhelming selection of sunscreens. Besides protecting your family from sunburn, premature aging, and (most importantly) skin cancer, you may have a fourth reason for purchasing plenty of sunscreen this summer –photosensitivity.  

What is Photosensitivity?
Photosensitivity (or sun sensitivity) is when sun exposure combines with certain medications to cause painful skin inflammation, similar to sunburn. The rash, while very uncomfortable, typically clears up fairly quickly once the medication is discontinued and cleared from the body. This can occur regardless of age or how long you have been taking a medication and is linked to a variety of different drugs.

Which Medications Cause Photosensitivity?
Our prescription savings card can make your medicines cheaper, but it’s important to be aware of their side effects. The following medications are more likely to cause sun sensitivity than other drugs:
      Acne treatments, particularly prescription retinoids, but also over-the-counter products containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, can cause photosensitivity.
      Antibiotics, particularly the commonly prescribed Bactrim or sulfamethoxozole trimethoprim, can cause photosensitivity.
      Allergy medications, specifically oral antihistamines, can affect the body’s ability to sweat, which can lead to a sun/heat-induced skin reaction.
      Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), both prescribed and over-the-counter, can cause differing levels of photosensitivity.
      Vitamins and herbs, specifically St. John’s Wort and Niacin, have been linked to photosensitivity.

How Can Photosensitivity Be Prevented or Treated?
First, never skip a dose of a prescribed treatment because you plan to go sunbathing. Instead, speak with your pharmacist about your sun exposure, particularly if you are planning a beach vacation or another similar summer activity while taking a medication or a supplement.

Second, check the drug label. Drugs with serious sun interactions should have those side effects listed on the label. Please take those warnings seriously and use precaution to avoid a reaction.

Third, use common sense and protect your skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you:
      Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
      Avoid tanning and UV tanning beds.
      Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
      Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
      Use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for extended outdoor activity.
      Apply one ounce of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside.
      Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

As you enjoy the sunshine this summer, take care to protect yourself from overexposure and skin damage. If you are currently taking one of the medications listed above, you have an additional reason to be careful. FamilyWize encourages you to stay safe in the sun this summer! And to save on prescription costs all year round, download our free pharmacy discount card.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Three Things to Check on Your Prescription Label – Every Time!

If you are like most people, when you pick up a new prescription at the drug store, you smile as you take the bag from the pharmacist, show your medication savings card, pay, and leave … never actually opening the bag until you get home. What you may not realize is that prescription labels (required by federal law) provide a wealth of information. By quickly reviewing the label for three key things before you leave the pharmacy counter, you can help to ensure that your prescription will be administered and dosed correctly – keeping you and your family safe.

Your Prescription Drug Label – Three Things You Should Always Check:

1. Your name
It sounds so simple, but it takes less than one second for you to check and make sure that the person behind the counter didn’t accidentally give you someone else’s prescription by mistake. Medication errors aside, a misspelled name or incorrect address can cause huge insurance headaches – better to catch and correct the issue before you leave the pharmacy.

2. Your dosing and storage instructions
For most people, the dosing instructions are the only thing they read on a prescription drug label – and usually not until they’re ready to take it for the first time. Check the instructions before you walk away from the counter to see if you have any questions about how your medication should be administered. As a bonus, if the pharmacist sees you reading the label, they might offer additional tips that are not included on the printout (like that amoxicillin doesn’t require refrigeration, but often tastes better to toddlers when it is kept very cold).

3. Your refill instructions
Many pharmacists will tell you that the majority of the questions they answer on any given day are related to prescription refills. Most prescription drug labels include this information on the bottle. Take a quick look at the label to confirm those details and ask if they aren’t immediately clear. You will save everyone some time when your current course of medication runs out.

Check out our graphic below for additional information about what is included on a prescription drug label and be sure to ask your pharmacist if you have any questions.  

Looking to save a few dollars on your next trip to the pharmacy? Regardless of your insurance situation, the Free FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card can help you to save money on your family’s prescription drugs. Get your own free prescription savings card or download the app today.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Stretching: What You Need to Know

While saving on your prescription medications can help you maintain your budget and stay healthy, it’s also vital to lead an active lifestyle. Starting with your kindergarten gym teacher, people have been telling you that it is important to stretch your muscles regularly – and they’re right! Here’s what you need to know.

Why You Need to Stretch
To put it simply, stretching keeps your muscles healthy and flexible. Flexibility is important, according to experts at Harvard Medical School. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight, weak, and unable to extend all the way. Weak muscles put you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. A few minutes of stretching a day can make a major difference to your health.

Benefits of Stretching
Beyond maintaining critical flexibility, regular stretching has other benefits as well. Here are just a few of the benefits identified by Prevention Magazine:
     Improved balance – Researchers have found that people who stretch regularly are less likely to trip and fall, likely due to improved fine-muscle coordination.
     Better workouts – Healthy muscle flexibility makes it easier to maintain proper form during workouts, ensuring you reap the maximum benefits from each exercise.
     Less stress – By relieving tight muscles, stretching tricks the body into believing that you are less stressed.

Stretching Safely
Before you start contorting your body into difficult yoga poses, please keep in mind a few guidelines for safe stretching. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you:
     Always stretch warm muscles – Before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging, or biking at low intensity for five to ten minutes. Or, consider stretching after your workout when your muscles are already warm.
     Keep movements smooth – Avoid looking like an 80s workout video and try not to bounce when you stretch. Bouncing can actually contribute to muscle tightness and injury.
     Stretch regularly – Flexibility can decrease rapidly without regular stretching. Add stretches into your regular workout routine to see ongoing improvement.

Unsure of where to start? Try YouTube for videos like this one with Denise Austin or look for local beginner yoga classes. Have other tips about stretching? Share them on our Facebook page!

To start saving on your medications, download your free prescription discount card from FamilyWize. Follow our blog for more healthy living tips!


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Four Ways to Save During Your Family Vacation

It can happen to anyone. You carefully budget for a family vacation, search for travel deals online, and then embark on your much-anticipated trip… Only to return and realize that you went way over budget, despite scoring great deals on your flights and hotel. What happened? You probably spent so much time focused on your big expenditures (flights, hotels, park passes, etc.), that you forgot about the smaller ones (fees, meals, and snacks), which can really add up.

Here are four tips for keeping those smaller expenditures under control, so that you can enjoy your time with your family:

1. Be strategic about cash and credit card use
Learn about your credit cards before your trip. Some cards charge hefty fees when they are used outside of the United States and some do not. Some also provide added benefits, such as insurance coverage for rental cars, which could save you from having to make additional purchases on the road. It also helps to decide where you will access cash while away from home. Some locations, like Las Vegas, are notorious for having high ATM fees, which can add up quickly. Do your research, so that you’re not surprised when you get your bill!

2. Scout a few good deals in advance
Take five minutes and see which chain restaurants near your destination have “kids eat free” promotional days. It also helps to know where easy lunch options are located near popular tourist destinations, so that you can avoid paying higher prices for in-venue dining.  Depending on your family, a simple Google search could cut your meal bill in half!

3. Take advantage of free WiFi where possible
Texting and calling abroad can easily add up, so turn off cellular data whenever possible when outside of the United States, and take advantage of free WiFi hotspots. If you are staying in the U.S. but your hotel charges for in-room WiFi, this tip also applies – just wait and download your podcasts and check your Instagram when you stop for coffee, and you won’t have to pay an extra fee for access. 

NOTE: Using public WiFi, even hotel WiFi, always comes with some risk, so think before you access any password-protected accounts.

4. BYO – Bring Your Own
While it is not always practical, BYOing on vacation can really save money. In particular, bring your own:
·       Refillable water bottles – most locations have easy-to-access water fountains, including major theme parks and airports
·       Snacks – even to Disney theme parks!
·       Sunscreen – notoriously expensive in hotel gift shops
·       Over-the-counter basics – having a few small packs of ibuprofen, cold/allergy meds, and your preferred method of dealing with a stomach bug can save you from having to pay for overpriced medication in an airport or hotel shop

And of course, make sure to always have your FamilyWize card with you (or download the app for your Apple or Android device), so that you can save money on any surprise prescription drug purchases on-the-go (hopefully you won’t need them!).

How do you save money while on vacation? Share your tips on our Facebook page!


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ask an Expert: A Cheaper Alternative to the EpiPen

This post is part of our “Ask an Expert” blog series. In this post, Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D and Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize, addresses a common question consumers have when it comes to prescription drugs. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital, and home care. Read his full bio, here.

It is estimated that 3.6 million Americans carry an EpiPen every day, a pen-shaped device containing epinephrine, which can prevent patients with severe allergies from experiencing a potentially deadly allergic reaction.

In 2016, EpiPens were frequently in the news, as drug company Mylan raised the price of the lifesaving device to over $600 per pen. Public outrage flared after it was pointed out in the media that the auto-injectors have increased in retail price more than 400 percent in recent years, and concern was raised that some people would not be able to access treatment when they need it.

Alternatives to the EpiPen
In response to public outcry, last year Mylan announced that an authorized generic product would be available for half the price of a brand name EpiPen.

But in 2017, patients have an even more accessible alternative. Recently, drugstore chain CVS announced that it would start selling an epinephrine auto-injector for $109.99 per two-pack (before any discounts are applied). This compares to a cash price of $649.99 for EpiPen.

CVS says its epinephrine auto-injector is based on the generic of Impax Laboratories’ Adrenaclick treatment. Adrenaclick, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2003, also administers epinephrine like an EpiPen, but through a slightly different injection.

What Patients Need to Know
If you or someone in your family requires an epinephrine auto-injector, please know that you have options to consider. If your doctor writes you a prescription for an EpiPen and you don’t have insurance or your insurance won’t cover the prescription, ask him or her about more cost-effective alternatives. You can also discuss your options with your pharmacist or your insurance provider.

Regardless of your insurance status or which injector you choose to use, the Free FamilyWize Prescription Savings Card may enable everyone to save on their prescription medications. Please check with your pharmacist to verify your savings.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Managing the Financial Side of Stroke Recovery [Stroke Awareness Month]

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Although largely preventable, statistics show that every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke. In fact, stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

Recovering from a stroke can be challenging. Among stroke survivors:
      50 percent have some weakness or paralysis on half of their body (hemiparesis)
      30 percent need walking assistance
      46 percent have cognitive deficits
      19 percent suffer speech or language impairments (aphasia)
      26 percent require assistance with daily living (dependent ADLs)
      26 percent require nursing home care

Not surprisingly, a stroke survivor’s healthcare can be extremely expensive. The average stroke patient pays more than $140,000 in lifetime medical bills

The costs can be so significant that the National Stroke Association has a section of its website dedicated to helping stroke survivors manage their finances. The organization recommends four tips for adjusting to the financial demands of stroke recovery:
      Create a financial plan – Establish a budget so that you can cut costs and responsibly use your savings before withdrawing from retirement funds or taking on debt.
      Maintain your health insurance – It is critical to work with your employer and insurance provider to ensure you have ongoing coverage.
      Contact your lender or landlord – If you think you may have trouble paying your mortgage or rent, proactively reach out to discuss your options. Local and federal housing programs may be able to help.
      Use your local resources – As you are recovering, take advantage of the many different utility, food, and other support programs in your area so that you can focus on getting well.

Carefully managing the cost of your prescription medications is also an important component of your healthcare budget. The FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card, which is regarded as one of the best options for people in need of pharmacy savings cards, enables everyone, both insured and uninsured, to save on prescription medications, with average savings of around 40 percent. The rx discount card is free for all and has unlimited use and no eligibility requirements. It is accepted at pharmacies nationwide, including all major chains. Learn more at

To participate in Stroke Awareness Month, please visit the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website or