How to Safely Choose OTC Medications
Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and pain relievers, laxatives, and headache remedies may treat different conditions, but they all have one thing in common: They’re serious medicines that need to be taken with care.
“It’s important to recognize that OTCs are medications that have some degree of risk, even though you don’t need a prescription to buy them,” says Ray Bullman, executive vice president of the National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE). “For the most part, they’re safe when taken exactly as directed on the label but can be dangerous if the wrong dosage is taken or the right amount is taken too often.”
When taking OTCs, always read the label. This will help you decide if you have selected the right product for your symptoms. By reading the label, you will also understand the dosing instructions and learn of any warning that may apply to you, such as not to take a medication if you have high blood pressure or Parkinson’s disease.
The label will tell you what to avoid while taking the medicine. Like prescription medicines, some OTC drugs can cause side effects or reactions. Read the label to see what to steer clear of while you’re taking an OTC drug.
Take medication exactly as stated on the label. “When it comes to OTC medicines, more is not better,” says Bullman. “Only take the recommended amount, and at the exact intervals stated on the label.”
You should use extra caution when taking more than one medication at a time.
“Many OTC medicines contain the same active ingredients, which means you may be getting more than the recommended dose without knowing it,” advises Bullman. “Always compare active ingredients before taking more than one OTC medicine or an OTC drug with a prescription medication.”
If, for example, you take a prescription drug that contains acetaminophen, and then take an OTC form of acetaminophen, you could risk developing liver failure.
When in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice. “Medication errors are all too common,” says Bullman. “However, they can be prevented if you choose OTC drugs with care, making sure to take a medication right for your symptoms that will not interact with your other medications or conditions.”