Nonprescription medicines

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Date: Feb. 1, 2012
Publisher: McKesson Health Solutions LLC
Document Type: Drug overview
Length: 623 words

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What are nonprescription medicines?

Nonprescription medicines, also called over-the-counter or OTC medicines, are medicines that can be bought without a prescription from a healthcare provider. Many OTC drugs can have a strong effect even though you don't need a prescription for them. And the choices can be confusing. For example, hundreds of medicines are available for colds, flu, allergies, and sinus symptoms. The best way to make sure that a medicine is right for you is to talk to your healthcare provider or a pharmacist.

When is it OK to use a nonprescription drug?

Just as your healthcare provider gives you prescription drugs only for specific problems, you should use nonprescription medicines only for certain simple health problems.

Common uses for OTC drugs are:

* cold symptoms

* allergy symptoms

* pain

* fever

* simple rashes.

What can I learn about a drug from the label?

The drug label gives important information. It lists:

* Active ingredients, which are listed first in the ingredients list. These are the chemicals in the medicine that have a medical effect.

* Symptoms or conditions the medicine may be used to treat.

* Warnings about:

** when you should not use the medicine

** when to stop taking the medicine

** when to see a healthcare provider

** possible side effects

* Directions on how to use the medicine and how often you can use it.

* Inactive ingredients, which are ingredients in the medicine that do not have a medical effect. They are mixed with the active ingredients so that the medicine can be in a form that can be easily used, like a pill or ointment.

* A toll-free phone number you can call to get more information about the medicine.

Can nonprescription medicines cause side effects or other problems?

All medicines can cause side effects. Some nonprescription drugs might worsen a medical problem. Or they might change the effects of other drugs. Many nonprescription medicines contain medicine that is also in some prescription drugs. Taking more than 1 medicine with the same active ingredient might cause an overdose. Children and older adults need to be especially careful when they take medicine because they have a higher risk for side effects. Discuss these issues with your pharmacist before you buy a nonprescription drug.

When you are getting advice from your pharmacist or your healthcare provider, tell them:

* all the names and doses of any other medicines you are taking, including natural remedies and supplements (keep a list with you)

* any allergies you have to foods or medicines

* any medical problems you have, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

If there is a chance you are pregnant, talk with your pharmacist or healthcare provider before taking any medicine.

How much of a nonprescription medicine is safe to take?

Always carefully follow the dosage instructions. Never take more than the recommended dose. Taking too much of a medicine could cause serious side effects or health problems.

If you are treating a small child, discuss the use and dosage of the product with your child's healthcare provider.

It is important to remember that not every problem needs to be treated with medicine. For many mild health problems, such as colds, rest and fluids help just as much as most drugs. Take medicine only when it is needed.

It is very helpful to always go to the same pharmacy for all of your medicines. This will allow them to know about all of the medicines you are taking. They will be able to check for possible interactions between any of your medicines, whether prescribed by your provider or bought over the counter.

Developed by RelayHealth.

Published by RelayHealth.

Last modified: 2010-08-20

Last reviewed: 2010-04-01

Source Citation

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Nonprescription medicines." RelayClinical Education, vol. 2012, RelayHealth, 2012. Gale Health and Wellness, Accessed 14 Dec. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A281566931