What Is Over-The-Counter Medicine?


Fatima Diarra

Most people have had an over-the-counter (OTC) drug at least once in their life. Whether it be taking cough medicine for a cold or some Advil for a headache, it is getting more common to use OTC drugs even before going for a doctor’s visit. They have become so common that sometimes it seems like a waste to go to the doctor when you could just go to your local Walmart and find something that’s easier on your wallet. However, in some cases, an OTC may not be the best option in the long run.

How are prescription drugs and OTC drugs different? A prescription drug can only be sold to someone who has a signed doctor’s prescription for it. For an OTC drug, a medical professional is not needed and it can just be bought at a pharmacy or a convenience store. The medically reviewed article Over the Counter Medications, says that OTC medication works and is safe to use by the public if the directions are followed. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) reviews new OTC drugs that don’t fit the already accepted ingredients, formulations, or doses. Over-the-counter drugs may be safe to use, but just like a prescription drug they still have side-effects and can do more harm when paired with other medications. Lots of OTC medications are advertised on TV or the internet, but they always make sure to state the potential side effects either in a fast run through or really small font. 

So, when is the best time to use an OTC medication versus going to the doctor to get a prescription? According to MedlinePlus, there are three situations where going to the doctor is recommended. The first is when the symptoms are really bad. A small cold that causes some coughing and sneezing is normal. A cold that makes one lose their appetite and throw up periodically is something that should be checked by a professional because it may not be a cold. The second situation is when you don’t know what is wrong. Self-diagnosing and assuming what the illness is can lead to taking the wrong medication and making a bad day worse. The last is when you have a long-term medical problem or you are already taking prescription drugs. In this case, using an OTC could also cause more harm to you or react badly with the medications you’re already taking. These situations call for medical professionals.

Over the counter drug, like any other medicine, needs to be used properly and responsibly. If you don’t know what you are taking and it wasn’t recommended by a licensed professional, it is best not to take it. Making sure to read the directions for use and storing it properly will help keep you safe. As always, knowing how to prevent illness instead of waiting for it to strike can be your best weapon against feeling under the weather. There is a time and place for both OTC or prescription medication, it just depends on the situation.