Tips for taking over-the-counter medicine

PLEASE NOTE:

The information provided below is not intended to replace a consultation with your pharmacist or physician. If you have questions about your medication(s) or are experiencing a health concern, please talk to your pharmacist.

Most medicine cabinets contain a growing choice of over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat many health problems. Over-the-counter drugs are sold directly without a prescription, as compared to prescription drugs, which may be sold only to consumers possessing a valid prescription. Common OTC medications include pain relievers, laxatives, cough and cold products, and antacids.

Some OTC medications however, can affect the way prescription medicines work or are used by the body. Always talk with your doctor and pharmacist about all OTC medicines you take.

Here are some important tips to remember:

Always read and follow the directions on the medicine label.

OTC medication labels give you all the information you need to take the medicine the right way and tell you:

  • Active and inactive ingredients,
  • What the medicine is used for,
  • Interactions or side effects that could happen,
  • How and when (or when not) to take the medicine,
  • Other warnings.

Choose OTC medications that have only the ingredients you need.

It is a good idea to only use medicines that treat the problems or symptoms you have. Ask your pharmacist for help. If you are taking more than one medication, pay attention to the "active ingredients" to avoid taking too much of the same ingredient.

Be aware of drug interaction

When medicines are used together (whether prescription or OTC) the ways they affect the body can change. This is called a drug interaction which may increase the chance that you will have side effects. There are three main interaction types:

Duplication: 

If you take 2 medicines that have similar active ingredients, you may get more medicine than you need. An example is when you take OTC ibuprofen (2 brand names: Advil, Motrin) along with a prescription anti-inflammatory medicine given to you by your doctor. Too much of either an anti-inflammatory medicine or acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) can hurt your kidneys or liver. You should know all the active ingredients in the medicines you take. Be sure to check each new medicine to avoid duplication.

Opposition (antagonism):

Medicines with active ingredients that have opposite effects on your body can interact. This may reduce the effectiveness of 1 or both medicines. For example, OTC decongestants may raise your blood pressure, so they can cause opposition when taken with certain medicines intended to lower your blood pressure.

Alteration: 

One medicine may change the way your body absorbs, spreads, or metabolizes another medicine. For example, aspirin can change the way certain prescription blood-thinning medicines work.

If you see more than 1 doctor, tell each of them about the medicines you take, even if you take something for just a short time. Include any herbal supplements, vitamins, and minerals you take.

Check for package tampering and the expiration date.

Don't buy medicines if the packaging has been broken or if the expiration date has passed. The expiration date tells you the date after which the product may not be as effective.

Talk to your doctor if taking an OTC medicine becomes a regular habit.

Most OTC medicines are only to be used for a short time.

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