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MD: 5 Surprising Ways Alka Seltzer Can Help You Sail Through Sick Season

Ah...what a relief it is! — who knew this age-old cure was so versatile?

For most of us, when we think of Alka Seltzer, the catchy jingle from the 70s is the first thing that comes to mind: “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!” And while the ad highlighted the effervescent tablets as a fast-acting heartburn cure, it turns out there are so many more uses for Alka Seltzer — both when it comes to your health and your household chores! Among the most interesting is Alka Seltzer for hangover relief.

What is Alka Seltzer?

Alka Seltzer is an inexpensive over-the-counter medication that’s best known for its ability to relieve symptoms of heartburn and upset stomach. While most of us think of it as tablets that you drop into a glass of water and drink, Alka Seltzer is also available as chews and gummies. The original formulation will run you about 50 cents a tablet.

“Alka Seltzer has three active ingredients: aspirin, sodium bicarbonate [aka: baking soda] and citric acid,” says Sonali Ruder, MD, a doctor in South Florida who is also known as the “Foodie Physician.” “The aspirin is a pain reliever, and the other two ingredients react with water to form bubbles.”

One reason Alka Seltzer is such a popular and powerful remedy is that it provides ultra-fast relief for health woes. Since your stomach doesn’t need to dissolve the medication, it starts working instantly. Other oral medications take longer to break down, delaying relief.

The health benefits of Alka Seltzer

Alka Seltzer provides affordable and effective treatment for several common health problems, including:

Relief from heartburn and indigestion

Okay—this is what it’s famous for: Alka Seltzer provides lasting relief for mild and moderate heartburn, a condition in which stomach acid flow back into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest. It’s one of the most common digestive issues, and it’s often triggered by eating spicy or acidic foods. (Click through for 9 cures for nighttime heartburn.)

“Alka Seltzer works by lowering the amount of acid in your stomach,” says Dr. Ruder. “The bubbles you see when you drop the tablets in water are carbon dioxide gas. When you drink the water, the gas neutralizes the stomach acid and settles your stomach.”

Alka Seltzer Gold is specifically formulated to relieve heartburn and indigestion. Unlike the original formula, it doesn’t contain aspirin — a plus for those with a sensitive stomach or those worried about side effects like nausea, stomach bleeding and kidney or liver problems. (Click through to learn how one woman used Alka Seltzer Gold to heal chronic UTIs)

Freedom from minor aches and pains

In general, women tend to experience pain more often than men, from headaches to joint pain. Here, too, Alka Seltzer can help, thanks in part to its aspirin content, says Dr. Ruder. “Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory medication and it provides pain relief.”

The pain relief that Alka Seltzer provides isn’t as strong as some of its other over-the-counter competition, but it’s a great option if you’re looking for quick relief or are running low on ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). That’s because studies show that ibuprofen eases pain more effectively than aspirin. “All three medications are effective for minor aches and pains, explains Dr. Ruder.  “But for moderate pain, I think ibuprofen works better than aspirin and has stronger anti-inflammatory effects.”  

Many women find that Alka Seltzer helps with period pain and menstrual cramps — a problem that affects 80% of women. The combination of aspirin, sodium bicarbonate and citric acid makes it ideal for managing period-related discomfort like bloating, painful cramps and even nausea, providing relief that lasts for up to four hours.

Help for multiple flu symptoms

Seasonal allergies, colds, the flu, and heartburn can all cause sore throats. Alka Seltzer is a great alternative to more traditional treatments, like gargling warm salt water or sucking on lozenges, because of its speedy effects.

“If a patient has multiple flu symptoms, like upset stomach, headache and sore throat, it’s reasonable to take Alka Seltzer, since it could help alleviate those symptoms,” says Dr. Ruder. “There’s also a product called Alka Seltzer Plus, which is more targeted at cold symptoms. It contains Tylenol (acetaminophen) and could be combined with decongestants and cough medicine to provide lasting relief.”

Conversely, “If a patient presented with just pharyngitis (throat infection), I wouldn’t generally recommend Alka Seltzer as a primary treatment,” says Dr. Ruder. “Rather, I’d recommend Tylenol or Ibuprofen in combination with other remedies, like throat lozenges or salt water gargles, which provide pain relief by different mechanisms.”

An end to hangover discomfort

Hangover symptoms can be debilitating. The muscle pain, nausea, stomach cramps and headache can leave you feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus. Alka Seltzer to the rescue! The effervescent drink provides near-instant relief, so you can get out of bed and back to your routine. There’s even a specific formula for hangovers: Alka Seltzer Hangover Relief. Like regular Alka Seltzer, it contains aspirin and sodium bicarbonate, but it has an added ingredient: caffeine. That’s key, since animal studies show caffeine plus anti-inflammatory meds (like aspirin) help ease a hangover headache. (To avoid the hangover in the first place, click through to our sister site to learn how pouring your cocktails in the right glass can ward off hangovers.)

Relief from bug bite itch

Bites from mosquitoes, chiggers and fleas are itchy and annoying. No calamine lotion at home? No problem! Add two Alka Seltzer tablets to a cup of warm water and soak a cotton ball in the mixture. Then, place the cotton ball on top of the bite (or bites) for 15 to 20 minutes. This reduces inflammation and provides quick relief. (Click through to learn what to do if mosquitoes are attracted to you)

Side effects of Alka Seltzer

Alka Seltzer is safe and presents few risks, but it isn’t for everyone. “It can interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners. Aspirin is a blood thinner too, so it may cause too much thinning of the blood,” says Dr. Ruder. “Avoid it if you have a known allergy to aspirin. Also, because it contains aspirin, it’s not recommended for people with certain medical conditions, like kidney disease, liver disease or bleeding disorders.” Talk to your doctor if you’re living with any of these health problems. He or she can make recommendations that meet your needs.

What’s the recommended dosage of Alka Seltzer?

The recommended dosage for adults is two tablets per 8-ounce glass of water. You can take up to two tablets every four hours, but you shouldn’t take more than eight tablets in a 24-hour period, says Dr. Ruder, who adds: “Follow the instructions and dosage recommendations on the packaging as it can have adverse effects if misused.”

Bonus: Alka Seltzer can help you keep your home clean!

Alka Seltzer is more than a medication. Because it contains sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), it’s also an excellent all-purpose cleaner. You can use it to:

  • Deodorize the refrigerator and microwave
  • Remove red wine and coffee stains from counters and other surfaces
  • Deodorize coolers and plastic food storage containers
  • Unclog drains
  • Clean dull or discolored jewelry (Note: Not all jewelry is safe to clean with Alka-Seltzer so spot-test first or ask a jeweler)
  • Remove toilet bowl stains (See YouTube cleaning expert Andrea Jean put this tip to use here, starting at the :52 mark)

Click through for other ways to clean with baking soda

Ah…the memories!

Before you go, check out this old ad, which remains one of the top 15 advertising campaigns in history.

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This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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