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How to Safely Choose OTC Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and pain relievers, laxatives, and headache remedies may treat different conditions, but they all have one thing in common. They’re serious medicines that need to be taken with care.

OTCs medications are real medicines and can have side effects and risks, even though you don’t need a prescription to buy them. Generally they are safe when taken exactly as directed on the label. But they can be dangerous if the wrong dosage is taken or the right amount is taken too often. Or if they interact with other medications you take.

When taking OTCs, always read the label. This will help you decide if you have picked the right product for your symptoms. By reading the label, you will find the dosing instructions and read about any warnings that may apply to you, like not to take a medication if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, Parkinson disease, or if you are pregnant.

The label will tell you what to avoid while taking the medicine. Like prescription medicines, some OTC drugs can cause side effects or reactions. Read the label to see what to avoid while you’re taking an OTC drug.

Take medication exactly as stated on the label. If that dosage or amount does not help your symptoms, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist.

You should use extra caution when taking more than 1 medication at a time.

Some prescription medications contain the same ingredients as OTCs. Combining 2 or more of these medications would result in an overdose.

If, for example, you take a prescription drug that contains acetaminophen, and then take an OTC form of acetaminophen, you could risk developing liver failure.

Always read and follow the directions on OTC medicines. When in doubt, ask your health care provider or pharmacist for advice.