12 Tips for Using Over-the-Counter Drugs

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are not harmless just because they are sold without a prescription. Follow these important safety tips when taking OTC medications.

Keeping your medicine cabinet stocked with essentials is a good plan. Under most circumstances, over-the-counter (OTC) medications are safe if taken correctly. But they are still drugs, and all drugs have risks. They contain chemicals that affect your body. Make sure you follow these tips with your “OTCs.”

What is OTC medication?

OTC medication is one that you can buy without a doctor’s prescription. These drugs let you treat some symptoms on your own without seeing a doctor. These drugs are sold at all pharmacies and some grocery stores. OTCs include everything from aspirin to antacids to decongestants and athlete’s foot spray.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decides whether or not a medication will be available OTC or by prescription only. The FDA says OTC drugs are safe and effective to use without a doctor’s supervision when you follow the directions on the label. That does not mean these kinds of drugs are harmless, though.

Safe use is the key

It’s important to be smart and safe when taking OTC medications. Here are twelve tips to help you use these drugs safely:

  1. Read the label carefully. The FDA requires that all OTC medications have a Drug Facts label. This label spells out the specifics about the medicine. It tells you:
    • What the medicine is used for (for example, treating your runny nose or muscle pain).
    • Which medications and foods you should not take with the drug.
    • Who should not take the drug or who needs to check with their doctor before taking it. Some medications are dangerous for people with certain medical conditions or are dangerous for children.
    • Possible side effects from taking the medication.
    • Active and inactive ingredients.
    • Directions on how to use and store the drug.
    • A toll-free number to call if you have any questions.
  2. Treat only the symptoms that you have. If you have a stuffy nose, you don’t need a medicine that also treats a fever and cough.
  3. Know the side effects. Some drugs can make you drowsy. Others may keep you up at night. Do not drink alcohol when you are taking any kind of medicine.
  4. Take the recommended dose at the recommended times. Overdosing can have serious consequences. You won’t feel any better if you take more medication than recommended.
  5. If you have questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist. Pharmacists have special training in OTC medications. Your doctor can also give you advice. Never guess which medication you should use.
  6. Call your doctor if the OTC medication does not seem to be helping. You may have a serious illness that can get worse if you don’t get medical help.
  7. Don’t use several OTC medications at once. They may interact with each other, or their active ingredients may be the same. For example, many products have acetaminophen as one of several active ingredients. An overdose of this medication can cause liver failure.
  8. Be aware of drug interactions. Check with your pharmacist or doctor to be sure the OTC medication won’t interact with other medications or supplements you take.
  9. Keep a record of your OTC medications. This can help you keep track of your dosages.
  10. Tell your doctor you’re taking an OTC medication. Any that you regularly take should be a part of your medical record. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before you take any OTC medications if you have an allergy or underlying medical condition, or if you take prescription drugs.
  11. Store all medicines in their original containers so you will not accidentally take the wrong drug.
  12. Check the expiration date. Do not use medication that is expired. It’s a good idea to look through your medicine cabinet once each year and dispose of expired medicine. Check with your pharmacist about safe and environmentally friendly ways of disposing of your medicines.
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