Seniors Should Be Wary of Potentially Unsafe Products

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Ordinary products, ranging from food and over-the-counter medications to hand sanitizers and sunscreens, can pose a health or safety risk. Senior consumers can protect themselves by checking product recall lists and safety alerts from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as warnings about unsafe foods posted on the government’s FoodSafety website.


Over-the-counter medications containing diphenhydramine are marketed for allergy relief and as sleep aids. It is the primary ingredient in Benadryl, an allergy medication that causes sleepiness as a side effect. It is also the key ingredient in ZzzQuil and many other over-the-counter products that promise consumers a restful night of sleep. Pain relievers that end with PM (such as Tylenol PM and Advil PM) include diphenhydramine to promote sleep.

The side effects of diphenhydramine appear to be more pronounced as consumers age. Cognitive impairment, including confusion, is one of the most serious side effects. Evidence suggests that long-term use of drugs containing diphenhydramine might increase the risk of developing dementia. Seniors might want to obtain medical advice before using a product that contains diphenhydramine.

Better Homes and Gardens Aromatherapy Spray

An aromatherapy spray imported from India may contain bacteria that can cause melioidosis. The tropical disease is widespread in South Asia and northern Australia, but uncommon in the United States. The illness causes a high fever, a dry cough, and respiratory difficulty.

Four recent deaths in four states have been caused by melioidosis. None of the victims had traveled to a place where they were likely to contract the disease. The CDC believes the disease was caused by bacteria in an aromatherapy product sold in Walmart stores and on its website.

The bacteria was detected in ““Better Homes & Gardens Lavender & Chamomile Essential Oil Infused Aromatherapy Room Spray with Gemstones.” The CDC is investigating whether other scents of the same product are contaminated.

Walmart has recalled the product and removed it from store shelves. All scents have been recalled. Seniors who have the spray in their homes should dispose of it or return it to Walmart.

ArtNaturals Hand Sanitizers

Using a hand sanitizer has become a reflex action since the pandemic began. Hand sanitizers are a safety precaution that may prevent transmission of a virus by killing the virus before it can be transmitted from the hands to the face (where it is one step closer to entering the body through the mouth, nose, or eyes).

At least some ArtNaturals scent-free hand sanitizer products have been voluntarily recalled, but only after the FDA warned consumers not to use any ArtNaturals hand sanitizers. The tested products contained unacceptable levels of cancer-causing chemicals.

Coppertone Sunscreen

The CDC recommends that seniors use sunscreen to reduce the risk of skin cancer. While the CDC suggests applying sunscreen when seniors are outside on a warm day for more than an hour, less than half of all seniors do so.

Seniors should nevertheless be careful about the sunscreen they select. Coppertone recently recalled five sunscreen spray products (pictured here). Like the ArtNaturals hand sanitizers, the sunscreen products contain unacceptable levels of benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer. Seniors (and other consumers) who have a recalled Coppertone product can request a refund at the website linked in this paragraph.

Space Heaters

Seniors who live in colder climates may be tempted to use a space heater to take the chill from the air. Several space heaters have been recalled in recent years, usually because they overheat, creating a fire hazard.

Some people use kerosene heaters in workspaces, garages, or basements.  Kerosene heaters can be dangerous in enclosed spaces because they consume oxygen and produce carbon monoxide. DeWALT cordless kerosene forced air heaters (model DXH90CFAK) have been recalled because they pose an extra danger. The heaters unexpectedly turn themselves on when temperature drops, creating a risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning if they are stored in enclosed spaces. The heaters were sold at Lowe’s before the recall.

Contaminated Food

Food products that are contaminated with Salmonella bacteria, Cyclospora parasites, or foreign objects present an ongoing problem. The products are often localized to a part of the country where the food is produced, but some contaminated products are distributed nationally.

Recent examples of contaminated food (taken from the FoodSafety website linked above) include: 

  • Tastykake cupcakes (bits of mesh wire in the product)
  • Dole Garden Classic Salads (Listeria contamination)
  • Taylor Farms mushroom stir fry (Listeria contamination)
  • Ukrop’s Green Salads and Chicken Wrap (small pieces of plastic)
  • Ivar’s Kettle Classic Clam Chowder with Uncured Bacon (small pieces of plastic)
  • Butterball ground turkey products (small pieces of plastic)
  • Nestle Nature’s Heart (undeclared peanuts)

The recalls may apply only to specific batches or sizes of the listed product. Seniors can consult the Foodsafety website for specific information.

Recalled products should already be removed from store shelves, but seniors may still have the products in their home. Consumers should dispose of recalled products or return them to the store for a refund.

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