OTC is short for “over-the-counter.” OTC drugs are medicines you can buy without a prescription from your doctor. You usually can find these medicines at your local grocery or drug store. Chances are, you’ve used OTC products many times to relieve pain, constipation, or nausea, or to treat symptoms of a cold or the flu.
If there is something you don't understand about a medicine you're taking or are planning to take, ask your doctor or pharmacist. If you still don't understand, ask him or her to explain things more clearly. If you are taking more than one medicine, be sure to ask how the medicines will work together in your body. Sometimes medicines cause problems when they are taken together (this is called a drug interaction).
You should read the drug label on the box and note the following things about each OTC medicine you take:
If you don’t understand something about a medicine you’re planning to take, ask your doctor or pharmacist. If you still don’t understand, ask him or her to explain things more clearly.
Medicines come in both brand names and generics. Generic medicines generally cost less than brand name medicines. Compare the list of ingredients. If the generic has the same ingredients as the brand name, you may want to consider using it. Most of the time, a generic will work as well for you as the brand name medicine. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about which medicine to choose.
If you're taking an OTC medicine and it doesn't seem to be working, call your family doctor. Your doctor may need to check to see why you aren’t getting better.
You should also call your doctor if you experience side effects or have any concerns about the medicine you're taking.
Funding and support for this material have been provided by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff