American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Using Over-the-Counter Medicine Safely

Woman reaching for pills on bedside tableIn the United States, the health care industry distributes medications through a two-class system: prescriptions and nonprescriptions. When a drug becomes classified as a nonprescription, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found the medication to be safe and effective for direct use by consumers.  

As the use of over-the-counter (OTC) medication rises, concerns about self-prescription and patient safety have also surfaced.

Using OTC Medications Safely

People have the misconception that they don’t need to be as careful when taking OTC medication simply because they can acquire them without a doctor’s prescription.

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, or DOs, who are trained to look beyond your symptoms by understanding how environmental and lifestyle factors impact your health, say that assumption can pose a serious threat to one’s health. 

Because of the potential risks involved with taking nonprescriptions, physicians strongly recommend that patients follow these safety tips: 

  • Read the labels on OTC medication before taking them. Not only does the label provide dosage amounts and frequency, but it also includes warnings about possible drug interactions with other medications, food or health conditions. For example, many people take decongestants as they battle colds. If these people have high blood pressure, this could mean bad news since this OTC medication may cause blood pressure to rise. 

  • It's also a good idea to inform your physician of all prescription and nonprescription medications you are currently taking, including vitamins, to make it easier for your physician to spot potential interactions.

  • Once the OTC medicine has been taken, report any side effects you experience as a result of the medication.

  • If you have questions at any point about the OTC drug, do not hesitate to contact your primary care physician. 

  • Physicians also suggest that patients keep a running log while taking OTC medication. The log should note when the medication is taken, the symptoms, how often the symptoms occur and when they occur. DOs emphasize that if symptoms persist for over a week, it is best to make an appointment to see the doctor because this could signal a more serious condition. 

While the intent of OTC medicine is to provide fast relief for common aches and pains, it's important to remember that they still can be powerful medications and should be taken with care.​​​​


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