Over-the-counter medication

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Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are drugs that can be bought at local pharmacies without a doctor's prescription or those available off the shelf and are sold by sales people with no pharmacy training. These products are selected by Bureau of Food and Drugs (now Food and Drug Administration) from prescription drugs that have been proven safe, appropriate, and effective.


Choosing the right OTC medication

With the abundance of over-the-counter medications available in the market, consumers must be able to choose the right OTC drug for them.


It is important to read, completely understand, and follow the instructions on the drug label to successfully use over-the-counter medications.

  • Active ingredient. This the chemical compound that will relieve the symptoms claimed by the drug. Sometimes some preparations have more than one active ingredient.
  • Uses. This part lists the symptoms that will be treated by the active ingredient/s. Sometimes, this section is called “Indications.”
  • Warnings. Contains safety information about substances and activities that must be avoided while taking the product. It will also mention the possible side effects and if this medication is safe for specific group of people like pregnant women or children.
  • Directions. This section contains how much medicine to take, how often, and how long the patient should take it. Sometimes, directions are different for adults and children.
  • Other information. This will contain storage instructions and the like.
  • Inactive ingredients. This is especially important for users who may have allergies to preservatives, binders, and colorants used in manufacturing the drug.
  • Questions or comments. A toll-free number of the manufacturer is provided for queries and comments about the product.

Symptoms present

Buy or use only the medicine that can treat the symptoms present. Many over-the-counter preparations have combined active ingredients which address other symptoms.

Generic or branded?

Generic names are usually in large print and are enclosed in a boxed label. As long as the generic names are the same, it is indicated for the same symptoms. Branded products cost more.

Other concerns

If there is something unfamiliar about the OTC medication, ask a doctor or a pharmacist for guidance. You can ask them these questions:

  • How to know if the medicine is working?
  • What are the possible side effects?
  • What does the medicine do?
  • When and how should the medicine be taken?
  • What activities should be avoided when taking the medication?
  • What other medicines, food, or drinks should be avoided when taking the medicine?

Reducing risks

Before buying any over-the-counter medications, think about this:

  • Who is it for? Children have poorly developed organs for eliminating drugs from their system. Pregnant women have to be wary of medications they use as it could cross the placenta and harm the fetus. People with chronic disorders must get clearance from their physicians before they could use certain OTC products.
  • What are the symptoms? It must be a self-limiting condition with irritating symptoms. The drug must treat the symptoms that affect the consumer most.
  • How long has the problem/symptoms been present? Conditions that can be alleviated by OTC drugs must not be more than a week. Any longer than that needs medical supervision and prescriptive medicines.
  • What actions have already been done? Herbal or non-drug actions must have been done but is found ineffective or inconvenient for treatment.
  • What medications have been taken for other conditions? Take note of other medications as they may cause drug overlap or drug interactions. Drug overlap means using different drug products that contain the same active ingredient. This might cause overdose or poisoning.


Most over-the-counter drugs are generally safe for use by most people. However, taking note of possible situations that may arise during use may prevent medical emergencies from happening.

  • Adverse effects are common in people who have these conditions: asthma, circulatory problems, hormonal disorders, diabetes, gout, kidney, and liver conditions, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s disease.
  • People who take more than 11 types of medications should seek medical advice when adding over-the-counter drugs in their regimen.
  • Never mix them with alcoholic drinks, hot liquids, or food. This might interfere with the drug's action in the body.
  • Avoid taking vitamin pills at the exact time of the medication. Sometimes, vitamins and minerals will interfere with a drug's effect.

Common OTC drugs

Pain relievers



Cough medicines


The Philippine Bureau of Food & Drugs (Food and Drug Administration) have an additional criteria for drugs to be classified as over-the-counter products and these are:

  1. To have no bioequivalence problems;
  2. To not be classified as a prohibited or regulated substance by the Dangerous Drugs Board; and,
  3. To not be an internationally controlled drug product by the International Narcotics Control Board.

Manufacturers, importers, and traders of OTC drugs must also prove that the worldwide incidence of reported adverse drug reaction is clinically insignificant, at least 20 years released in the international market and marketed as an OTC product in Australia, Canada, Japan, Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom.