Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-Counter Medications | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Over-the-counter medications are ones you can buy at your local pharmacy without requiring a prescription from your family physician and are used to treat symptoms associated with various types of illness. If you don’t need these medications then you shouldn’t take them simply for the sake of taking them – and, like prescription drugs, they can also come with side effects or be harmful if not taken accurately – however, there are some over-the-counter medications and other medical-related products that we should all have on hand in the event that we do need them.

Among some of the most common OTC medications are pain relievers, which include things like acetaminophen, aspirin, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (also known as NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. Acetaminophen is used to treat minor aches and pains; it also helps reduce fever, and is a generally well-tolerated drug – particularly with individuals who cannot tolerate NSAIDs, which are also used to treat pain, reduce inflammation, and also reduce fever. Because NSAIDs can cause side effects (sometimes severe) such as stomach-upset and other gastrointestinal related problems, long-term use of these particular medications is not recommended. It is also recommended that NSAIDs be avoided by individuals who have a history of stomach and bowel bleeding, as well as those with kidney disease. You also increase your risk of bleeding if you take NSAIDs while on blood thinners (such as warfarin.) Aspirin is a well-known pain medication that has been on the market for many decades. Similar to NSAIDs, aspirin is also used to treat pain and inflammation, as well as reduce fever. Because of its anti-blood clotting properties, it is also used as first-line treatment in preventing heart attacks and stroke. In fact, chewing just one aspirin in the event of a heart attack can actually be a life-saving measure. That being said, aspirin also comes with side effects, and when taken in large doses could cause serious complications with your health, including pulmonary edema and kidney failure.

If you suffer from a virus, such as a common cold, then there isn’t much you can do in the way of getting rid of it, as nature just has to take its course. You can, however, find relief from some of the symptoms you may be experiencing (such as nasal congestion or cough) with some over-the-counter medications. Nasal decongestants, for example, can help to relieve that stuffed up feeling and have you breathing better. While some decongestants are available in pill form, they are also available as a nasal spray. It is important to note that these decongestants will only provide you with temporary relief, and should not be taken for longer than the amount of time as indicated on the packaging. Overuse of decongestants – nasal sprays, in particular – could potentially result in the worsening of your symptoms and lead to what’s known as rebound congestion. There are also a variety of liquid-form medications on the market that can be taken to relieve or suppress a cough, as well as bring up any excess mucus. If you have a sore throat, try sucking on a lozenge (cough candy) or drinking warm tea with honey and lemon. Pharmacies also have numbing throat sprays that you can purchase, though again, these will only provide you with temporary relief.

Upset stomach and indigestion are two very common problems that can be cause by a number of contributing factors. One of the most common medications used to treat upset stomach and indigestion is Bismuth subsalicylate, a pink liquid better known as Pepto-Bismol. Along with upset stomach and indigestion, it is also used to treat mild nausea and diarrhea. When taking this medication, you may notice that your stools appear darker or black in colour, but this is usually not something to be concerned about. If heartburn/indigestion are your biggest concerns, then you could benefit from taking an antacid or other over-the-counter medication used to treat acid reflux. In some cases, however, your doctor may need to prescribe you something stronger to help relieve your symptoms, and you may also need to be referred to a gastroenterologist should your symptoms persist or worsen.

As allergic reactions can occur at any time, having an allergy medication on hand can also be beneficial – and even life-saving. Common allergic reactions include rash and itching of the skin, as well as itchy, red and watery eyes. These types of reactions, while irritating, are not usually life-threatening, and can be easily treated with topical allergy cream, allergy pills, or liquid allergy medication. You can also develop a more severe type of allergic reaction, however, known as anaphylaxis. When anaphylaxis occurs, you may begin wheezing, have trouble breathing, and difficulty swallowing or the feeling as though your throat/airways are tightening up. This is considered a medical emergency and 911 should be called. Along with keeping over-the-counter allergy medication on hand, individuals with more severe allergies are usually prescribed what’s known as epinephrine (in injectable form), which helps reverse anaphylaxis. In the event that you do need to use epinephrine, you will still need to be seen by an emergency room physician just to ensure that you do not have any additional allergy symptoms.

Prior to taking any OTC medications, always be sure to first check with your doctor and pharmacist as some of these medications could potentially interact with medications you’re already on. You should also follow dosing exactly as written on labels or as directed by your doctor, and make sure to store your medication in a safe space (and away from children.)