Medicine Information

Over The Counter Drugs: How To Safely Choose The Right Medication


What Medication Can Cure Me?

1. Am I expecting a cure? Some medications relieve symptoms - that is, they stop the itching, pain, redness, etc - but do not actually get to the source of the illness. Some illnesses, like the common cold, can't be treated/cured, so looking for an OTC drug may be a waste of time; getting rest and drinking fluids may be a better way to spend your afternoon! Other things, like yeast infections, can be treated by over the counter medications; if the infection is making you uncomfortable as well as needing treatment, make sure that you pick a product that gives you both symptomatic relief and treatment.

Is It Safe For Your Child?

2. Is it for your child? If so make sure that you're getting a drug that can be given to children. Some drugs that help adults can be dangerous for children; others need to be given at a special dosage. Read the fine print on the box before buying for your child.

What About Interactions With Other Drugs?

3. What else am I taking? If you're on any other medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription, stop by the pharmacist's desk before heading to the check-out counter. She can check to make sure that the drugs you are taking don't change the effect of the drugs you are taking.

Wait... Shouldn't My Illness Be Over Already?

4. Should my illness have ended by now? If you think you have something that has a natural lifecycle - that is, something like a cold that should end on its own - but you don't feel better after that time is up, you may have misdiagnosed your illness. If you're having to take pain-reliever nonstop to keep functioning, your body is trying to tell you something and you should listen. What feels like a cold might be bronchitis; that achy foot may require orthotics, not aspirin.

Long Term Medication Use

5. Is it a chronic problem? If you're having to take over-the-counter medications over a long period of time to prevent symptoms, it is time for your health care practitioner to find out what the underlying cause is. Even something as simple as scaly skin may be a warning sign that you're developing diabetes. And some relatively harmless medications can have serious long-term consequences; for example, some over the counter pain medications can cause stomach bleeding if you take them for a long time. If you're taking an OTC medication constantly to reduce long-term discomfort, talk to your health care provider to make sure that a) you're not missing something important and b) that if it's a chronic problem, you're taking medication that your body can handle chronically.

Compare Ingredients

6. What's the active ingredient? If the same active ingredient is found in both the name brand and the generic, chances are they will have the same effect.

Pregnant Or Breast Feeding?

7. If you're pregnant or nursing, check with your physician before taking ANY medication, including OTC drugs and alternative products (such as herbal remedies). Some drugs can cross the placenta or through the milk glands, giving your fetus or baby a whopping dose of medication. While the medication might be fine for you, it may not be fine for your baby.

Watch Out For Alcohol

8. Does the medication contain alcohol? If it does, it's probably going to make you sleepy, it will probably make you feel dehydrated, and adding more alcohol on top of it can be dangerous.

Double-Doses: Be Careful!

9. Am I doubling up? If you're taking more than one over-the-counter medication, make sure that they don't have the same ingredients; if they do, you might be doubling the recommended dose of that medication and setting yourself up for unpleasant side effects. This is a particular problem when you take something that combats multiple symptoms of an illness (like "flu" medications that relieve pain, fever, stuffy nose, and sore throat) - often they contain multiple active ingredients, one of which may overlap with another medication (like a pain killer) that you're taking

Side Effects And Allergies

10. Check the label for side effects and symptoms of allergic reaction. If side effects include drowsiness and you drive a truck or care for several active toddlers, this medication might not be right for you. Similarly, if you start running a fever or develop a rash, having read the label ahead of time will help you know if you need to stop the medication and call a doctor to avert a full-blown allergic attack.

Copyright (C) Shoppe.MD and Ian Mason, 2004-2005

Ian Mason, owner of Shoppe.MD, your source for Online Prescription Medications, drug information and support forums.

Ian is a fat-to-fit student of health, weight loss, exercise, and several martial arts; maintaining several websites in an effort to help provide up-to-date and helpful information for other who share his interests in health of body and mind.


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