drugsOver-the-counter medications (OTC’s) are medications that can be obtained without a prescription.  Keep in mind that they are still medications; therefore, they may cause side effects and drug interactions.  Treating a minor medical condition with OTC’s is ideal for the relatively healthy individual, but very young patients and older adults, and those taking multiple prescriptions or several OTC drugs, need to be cautious.  

Once a patient has several health conditions and is on multiple medications, OTC drugs need to be treated with the same precautions as prescription medications. In the case of sleep aids, prescription medications may actually be safer and more effective than over-the-counter sleep aid medication, especially for the elderly.

Always ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking OTC medications and never take the medication without following all of the instructions on the package. OTC medications are relatively safe and effective when used infrequently and according to their directions.  Never use OTC medications for longer than recommended. If symptoms do not improve within the amount of time recommended it may be a sign that you have a condition that requires being under the care of a physician.

The following list highlights some of the conditions in which individuals need to pay very special attention to their use of over-the-counter medications. This also applies to patients who are thought to be well controlled.
Bleeding and circulation disorders
Breastfeeding or pregnant
Enlarged prostate
High blood pressure and heart disease
Kidney or liver disease
Psychiatric disorders
Thyroid problems

Watch also for over-medication which occurs when a patient takes unnecessary or excessive medications.  OTC cough and cold products and even some sleep aids may contain a pain reliever. If a patient is taking a separate pain reliever, the result may be over-medication.  Also, OTC sleep aids often contain an antihistamine.  The patient may already be taking an antihistamine for seasonal allergies, which could result in over-medication.  These are just two examples of cases where a patient unknowingly takes too much of certain medications, but there are many more.
Recommendations for safe use of Over-The-Counter medications
Limit use of OTC’s
Only take medication for symptoms you are experiencing.  If you only have a headache and a runny nose do not take a product that also treats a cough.
Read the entire Drug Fact label.
Use correct measuring device for liquids.
Do not use for longer than recommended.
Let the pharmacist know which OTC’s you are taking so they can be added into your profile and be checked for interactions or duplications with your prescription medications.
Lori Samer, RPh. is a pharmaceutical consultant and owner of Medication Matters, LLC.  We are a consulting service that specializes in addressing the challenges of taking medications correctly and optimizing the effectiveness of your medications.  We review your medication list, address concerns about your medications and identify medication related problems all in an effort to improve your health and provide peace of mind. To learn more, please visit our website at www.medicationmattersllc.com.
For further information, please email Lori at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 484-268-8237.

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