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What Are the Most Common Anticholinergic Side Effects?

Anticholinergic drugs can cause dry mouth, blurred vision, constipation, urinary retention, and confusion, particularly in the elderly. These effects stem from the medication's impact on the nervous system. Understanding these side effects is crucial for managing them effectively. Have you or a loved one experienced these symptoms? Learn more about how to mitigate these common yet disruptive effects in our full article.
Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Jacquelyn Gilchrist

An anticholinergic is a bronchodilator medication that treats the symptoms of a breathing disorder by relaxing the airways. The most common types of anticholinergic side effects can range from a minor cough to a rapid heartbeat. To help avoid the potential anticholinergic side effects, patients should disclose all of their other medical conditions, medications, and supplements before using the drug. Proper use of the drug, which is available in aerosol form, can also help prevent unwanted side effects.

Some examples of anticholinergic drugs include tiotropium, ipratropium, and a combination drug of albuterol and ipratropium. The exact side effects may vary, depending on the specific medication the patient uses. Some side effects do not require medical attention, unless they become severe. These can include headache, a cough, and dry mouth.

A cough is one possible side effect of an anticholinergic medication.
A cough is one possible side effect of an anticholinergic medication.

Other minor side effects may include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Patients have also reported constipation, heartburn, and a runny nose or nosebleed. Sneezing, indigestion, and stomach pain can also occur. Muscle pain, painful white patches in the mouth, and changes in the patient's voice are also possible anticholinergic side effects. Some patients may experience frequent, painful or difficult urination.

More serious anticholinergic side effects require immediate medical attention. Patients should contact their doctor if they notice signs of a possible infection, such as chills, a fever, and a sore throat. A rapid heartbeat and chest pain may be an indication of an overdose of albuterol and ipratropium, while an overdose of tiotropium may also cause blurred vision, uncontrollable shaking in the hands, and red eyes, along with unusual changes in thinking.

Additional anticholinergic side effects that require a doctor's urgent care can include signs of a possible allergic reaction, such as hives, itching, or wheezing, along with swelling of the facial region. Difficulty breathing or swallowing may also occur. Other serious anticholinergic side effects may include seeing colored images, seeing halos around lights, and hoarseness.

Some of the other common anticholinergic side effects may occur because the patient got the medicine in his eyes. To prevent this, the patient should keep his eyes closed at all times while using the inhaler. If tiotropium gets in the eyes, the patient may have blurry vision and sensitivity to light, while those who get albuterol and ipratropium in the eyes may have widened pupils, eye redness, or eye pain. It can also cause the development of narrow angle glaucoma, which can eventually result in vision loss.

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    • A cough is one possible side effect of an anticholinergic medication.
      By: Lisa F. Young
      A cough is one possible side effect of an anticholinergic medication.