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Over the Counter Medications : Is it safe? 10 Common Medicines and First Aid To Have at Home

What are Over the Counter Medications?

Over the counter  medications are those that can be purchased without a prescription. Some over-the-counter medications relieve aches, pains, and itches. Some, such as tooth decay and athlete’s foot, prevent or cure disease. Others assist in the treatment of recurring such problems as migraines and allergies. 

The Food and Drug Administration determines whether a medicine is safe and effective enough to be sold over-the-counter in the United States. This allows you to be more involved in your health care. However, you must exercise caution to avoid making mistakes. Make sure to follow the directions on the medication label. If you are unsure about the instructions, consult your pharmacist or health care provider.

What are Over the Counter Medications?

OTC medications are available without a prescription in the following locations:

  • Drug stores
  • Grocery stores
  • Discount and department stores
  • Convenience stores
  • Some gas stations

When used properly, Over the counter medications can help protect your health by:

  • Relieving symptoms such as pain, coughing, or diarrhoea
  • Preventing problems like heartburn or motion sickness
  • Treating conditions such as athlete’s foot, allergies, or migraine headaches
  • Providing first aid

It is fine to use OTC medications for most minor health problems or illnesses. If you are not sure, ask your health care provider or your pharmacist. Your provider can tell you:

  • Whether an OTC medicine is right for your condition
  • How the medicine might interact with other medicines you take
  • What side effects or problems to watch for

Your pharmacist can answer questions such as:

  • What the medicine will do
  • How it should be stored
  • Whether another medicine might work as well or better

Remember that there are still risks to taking OTC medications: 

  • The medication you are taking may interact with other medicines, supplements, foods, or beverages. 
  • Some medications are not appropriate for people who have certain medical conditions. Certain decongestants, for example, should not be used by people with high blood pressure. 
  • Certain medications cause allergic reactions in some people. 
  • Many medications are not safe to take while pregnant. If you are pregnant, consult your doctor before taking any medication. 
  • When giving medicines to children, use caution. Make certain that your child receives the correct dosage. Do not use a kitchen spoon to administer liquid medicine to your child. Instead, use a teaspoon-marked measuring spoon or a dosing cup.

Here are a few pointers to help you make safe decisions and reduce your risk of harm when using over-the-counter medications.

When giving medicines to children, use caution. Make certain that your child receives the correct dosage.

  • When using over the counter medications, carefully read the label. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States requires drug manufacturers to include specific information on over-the-counter (OTC) medications. This vital information can be found on the medicine package or container’s Drug Facts label. The label contains the following information: active ingredients; purpose (what it is used for); uses; warnings; directions – when, how, and how often to take; age restrictions; and other information, including inactive ingredients. Ask your pharmacist for assistance if you are unsure how to read the Drug Facts label.

Here is what the label will show you:

  • Active Ingredient. This tells you the name of the medicine you are taking and how much is in each dose.
  • Uses. The conditions and symptoms the medicine can treat are listed here. Unless your provider tells you otherwise, do not use the medicine for any condition not listed.
  • Warnings. Pay close attention to this section. It tells you if you should talk with your provider before taking the medicine. For instance, you should not take certain antihistamines if you have a breathing problem like emphysema. The warnings also tell you about side effects and interactions. Some medicines you should not take when using alcohol or taking other medicines. The label will also tell you what to do in case of an overdose.
  • Directions. The label tells you how much medicine to take at one time, how often to take it, and how much is safe to take. This information is broken down by age group. Fully read the directions, because the dosage may be different for people of different ages.
  • Other Information. This includes such things as how to store the medicine.
  • Inactive Ingredients. Inactive means the ingredients should not have an effect on your body. Read them anyway so you know what you are taking.


Some OTC products contain multiple ingredients. Each active ingredient addresses a distinct symptom. Tylenol (a pain reliever/fever reducer) and Tylenol Cold & Sinus (often used to treat a cold and sinus congestion) contain the active ingredient acetaminophen. They should not be taken at the same time. Another active ingredient in Tylenol for Cold & Sinus is pseudoephedrine, which helps relieve congestion. Choose a product that only treats your symptoms to avoid taking unnecessary medications and reduce your risk of side effects.


  • Before taking an OTC medication, consult your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Some over-the-counter medications are harmful to a developing baby. Some medications that a breastfeeding mother may take can pass through her breast milk and harm her child. Before taking any medication while pregnant or breastfeeding, always consult your doctor.


  • Check the expiration date at all times. 

Never use expired medications. According to the FDA, medicine can become less effective or more potent after its expiration date. 3 Set aside a few days each year to dispose of any expired medications in your home. See the FDA’s article, Where and How to Dispose of Unused Medicines, for more information on how to properly dispose of expired or unused medications.


  • Use only the measuring tool that was provided with the OTC product. 

To measure a dose of medicine, do not use household measuring spoons or other kitchen utensils (e.g., teaspoons). Using these items may cause you to take more or less medicine than is recommended. Use the measuring device that comes with the OTC product instead.

Other Ways to use OTC Medications Safely

You should:

  • Examine the package before you buy it. Make sure it has not been tampered with.
  • Never use medicine you have bought that does not look the way you think it should or that is in a package that appears suspicious. Return it to the place you bought it from.
  • Never take medicine in the dark or without glasses if you are unable to see clearly. Always be sure you are taking the right medicine from the right container.
  • Always tell your provider what medicines you take. This includes prescription and OTC medicines as well as herbals and supplements. Some prescription medicines will interact with OTC medicines. And some contain the same ingredients as OTC medicines, which means you could end up taking more than you should
Over the Counter Medications You Should Always Have On Hand

When it comes to first aid in the home, keep a well-stocked medicine cabinet on hand. If you need to treat an illness or injury, you will have all of the necessary medications and first aid supplies to assist yourself or others. 

Take an inventory of your medicine cabinet and what’s currently on your shelves before you go to the drugstore. This is an excellent time to purge your medicine cabinet of outdated prescriptions and expired medications. Make this a habit of doing it every three months. Find a local centre near you that can dispose of old medications properly. This service is provided annually by some grocery stores or community centres. You won’t have to wonder how long that bottle of the pink liquid has been sitting on your shelf the next time you get a stomach ache. 

Always follow the dosage instructions on the medication packaging.

Always follow the dosage instructions on the medication packaging.

Common medicines and first aid kit Supplies List
  1. Keep a list of emergency instructions on hand. 

Inside the cabinet door, tape a list of emergency phone numbers (doctors, Poison Control), medication instructions, and allergy remedies. 


  1. Acetaminophen and an anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). 

Acetaminophen is a fever reducer and pain reliever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help to relieve inflammation caused by conditions such as backaches and toothaches. Keep an eye out for NSAID sensitivity in your family, particularly in young children.


  1. Acetaminophen 

Adults can use aspirin to relieve pain, but it’s also useful to have on hand in case of an emergency. Taking aspirin during a heart attack is also beneficial, according to the American Heart Association. In fact, people suffering from a heart attack are frequently given aspirin by emergency medical services. However, you should be aware of any aspirin sensitivity in your family, and aspirin should never be given to children under the age of 18. 


  1. Antihistamines 

Antihistamines are used to treat hives, itching, and allergic reactions caused by a variety of factors. Keep oral antihistamines (liquid or pill form, which may be useful during a severe allergic reaction) and hydrocortisone cream on hand.


  1. Medicine for decongestant, cough suppressant, and flu relief 

When you’re sick, you won’t want to leave the house to go to the pharmacy, so keep cold and flu relief medication on hand. If your throat is sore, gargle as often as you like with warm salt water (1/2 teaspoon salt in 1 cup water). Lots of rest is the key treating a cold. You may find you need 12 hours of sleep each night, so don’t set that alarm. You’ll be most comfortable in a warm, humid environment. It’s also important to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine. This makes mucus flow more freely and helps with congestion.


   6. Antiacids 

If you have heartburn, these are your best bet for quick relief. They come as liquid or chewable tablets and can be bought from pharmacies and shops without a prescription. Antacids should be used when you have symptoms or think you will get them soon for most people, the best time to take them is with or soon after meals, and just before going to bed. Remember that doses for children may be lower than for adults.


  1. Antibiotic cream 

After washing cuts and scrapes with warm water and soap, apply this and cover the wound with clean bandages. Polysporin (bacitracin/polymyxin B), Neosporin (bacitracin/neomycin/polymyxin B), and bacitracin are all over the counter medications and antibiotic ointments that you can use to help treat or prevent infection for minor cuts or scrapes.


  1. Bandages 

Stock up on adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes, as well as gauze and sterile tape. The three general types of bandages are triangular bandages, roller bandages, and tailed bandages. 


  1. Thermometer 

Although feeling someone’s forehead is a good first step, a thermometer is required for an accurate temperature reading. The measurement of body temperature can help detect illness. It can also monitor whether or not treatment is working. A high temperature is a fever.


10  Ice and heat packs 

Keep a few of these on hand because they can help with everything from headaches and sprains to injuries and sore muscles.

OTC medications include everything from vitamin and mineral supplements to emergency contraception. 

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, like prescription drugs, are available to treat a wide range of conditions. OTC medications include everything from vitamin and mineral supplements to emergency contraception. 

OTC medications, like prescription drugs, can be misused, abused, and even interact with one another. 

Although OTC medications do not require a consultation with your healthcare provider prior to use, it is still critical that you understand what you are taking. If you have any questions, consult with your doctor or pharmacist.

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