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Over-The-Counter Medicines: Are They Really Safe?

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Over-The-Counter Medicines: Are They Really Safe?

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This article highlights the harmful effects of self-medicating without a proper doctor's prescription and creates awareness. Read the article to know more.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Preetha. J

Published At April 4, 2018
Reviewed AtAugust 30, 2022


Of late, a common trait is observed among several patients. That is, avoiding consulting a doctor for their illnesses. To escape from consulting a doctor, the patient is seen to directly approach the pharmacy for certain medicines and not take a thorough treatment from a qualified healthcare provider. A lack of awareness about the illness and its causes, lack of facilities, lack of time, and economic issues are the major role players in it. However, the harm is to the patient's health.

What Are Over-The-Counter Medicines?

Over-the-counter medications are the drugs that you can purchase without a prescription. It is otherwise known as OTC or nonprescription medicines. These over-the-counter medications help ease symptoms like pain, itching, etc. It is considered safe and effective if you follow the instructions given on the label.

Note: If you do not understand the instructions contact the pharmacist and get to know the do's and don'ts while taking the drugs.

What Are Over-The-Counter Medicines Used?

Over-the-counter medicines can help protect health when used properly and as instructed. It helps in the following conditions:

  • It helps alleviate symptoms like pain, coughing, or diarrhea.

  • OTC medicines help prevent health illnesses such as motion sickness and heartburn.

  • It also helps in treating conditions like allergies, headaches, or athletes' feet.

When Can Over-The-Counter Medications Be Used?

Over-the-counter medicines can be used to treat minor health illnesses. If you are not sure if the medicine is right for you, then ask the pharmacist about the medicine, and ask if the medicine interacts with other medications you are taking, and also ask about the side effects that are caused by the drug.

Who Is at More Risk of Developing Adverse Effects on Taking Over-The-Counter Medicines?

Healthy individuals are usually at a lower risk of developing side effects from taking OTC medicines. People who have the following conditions are at greater risk of developing adverse effects:

  • Asthma.

  • Bleeding disorders.

  • Breathing problems.

  • Epilepsy.

  • Heart disease.

  • High blood pressure (hypertension).

  • Issues with the immune system.

  • Diabetes.

  • Liver diseases.

  • Glaucoma.

  • Thyroid problems.

  • Psychiatric issues.

  • Parkinson's disease.

What Precautions Have to Be Followed While Taking Over-The-Counter Medicines?

  • Make sure the medicine is sealed and not opened. If it looks suspicious or half-opened, do not purchase that medicine.

  • Read the instructions given on the drug label and see if the drug can be taken for your condition.

  • Most importantly, check the expiry date.

  • And also, inform the pharmacist about all the medications you are taking and ensure that the given OTC medicines do not interact with the medicines you are taking.

  • Keep the medicines out of reach and out of sight of children.

Why Do Patients Prefer Getting Over-The-Counter Medicines?

The reasons can be many:

  • To save the doctors' consultation fees.

  • Fear of being overmedicated.

  • Fear of being diagnosed with a chronic condition like diabetes or hypertension.

What Are the Risks Associated While Taking Over-The-Counter Medications?

  • The medicine you are taking can interact with other medications, supplements, foods, or drinks that you are already taking. Our body processes every medicine differently, and so when different medicines are taken together, the way they affect the body can be changed, and the chances of side effects can be high.

  • Certain over-the-counter medications may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions. For instance, a person with high blood pressure cannot take decongestants.

  • You can be allergic to the medicine. It is not common, but a few people can be allergic to certain medicines. The signs of an allergic reaction include itching, rashes, hives, and breathing problems.

  • And most importantly, taking certain medicines during pregnancy is not safe. And if you are pregnant, then definitely you have to consult your healthcare provider before taking OTC medicines.

  • You have to be very cautious when you are giving over-the-counter medicines to children as the right, and appropriate dosage given in the drug label needs to be taken.

  • Most of the OTC medicines are not as strong as the prescription ones.

What Are the Complications of Taking Over-The-Counter Medicines?

Preference to use the internet over a personal consultation. Buying medicines without a doctor's prescription gets the symptoms temporarily relieved. However, the patient lands up suffering for extended periods than necessary and finally ends up with more complications, resistance to the previously effective drugs, and increasing side effects of medicines.

Ultimately, the health of society is getting affected, and we are gradually becoming vulnerable to rare diseases, which is so distinct from the sudden increase in the number of patients with fatal diseases, which is a global concern.

How to Develop a Path to Improved Health?

  • Try to limit the usage of OTC medicines unless you really need them.

  • If you are taking prescription medicines for any other illnesses, then consult your healthcare provider before taking any OTC drug.

  • Read the drug label and make sure you know what ingredients the drug contains. And understand the drug warning and precautions. If you do not understand the medicine, ask the pharmacist.

  • Take medicine as instructed. Do not take a higher dose or frequently, thinking that you will have better effects. Take it at recommended dosage and duration.

  • Avoid taking medicines with alcohol.

  • Do not take vitamin supplements along with OTC medicines.

  • Avoid taking medicines containing the same ingredients at the same time.

  • Remember that you can still develop a reaction for medicine you took in the past with no reactions.

Over-the-counter medication is the major factor in deteriorating general health, and it should be strictly prohibited. We need not wait until a law prohibiting the sale of potent medicines without proper prescriptions to be passed. We must, by ourselves, start avoiding doing so for our own health. If we are competent enough to understand and circumvent it, then it will slowly and gradually get wiped out naturally.


It is important for all of us not to overlook the symptoms or try to escape the proper path of treatment. Instead, approach a "qualified" doctor at the initial stage itself, and receive the best possible treatment to put a check on the disease in the very beginning, thereby saving your health as well as money in the long run.

Dr. Jayvirsinh Indrasinh Chauhan
Dr. Jayvirsinh Indrasinh Chauhan


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