Should I call my doctor in the middle of the night or just pick up some over-the-counter (OTC) medications to try first? Many of us would lean towards the latter option as it is more convenient, and low cost. Who wants to see their doctor anyway? Certainly, not me. As a matter of fact, 90% of Americans use OTC medications on a regular basis for treatment of acute illnesses. In general, doctors and pharmacists believe OTC medications to be safe and effective. However, there are certain sensitive patient populations that should be cautious when using OTC medications; such as the elderly, pediatric or those with multiple chronic conditions taking multiple prescription medications. The availability of OTC medications is not only beneficial to patients but also provides tremendous cost benefits to the U.S. healthcare system, saving over $150 billion dollars in healthcare costs – reducing doctor’s visits and expensive prescription medications.
What should I look out for when purchasing over-the-counter medications? We may think that OTC medications are 100% safe simply because they are readily available to us. Keep in mind that OTC medications were once prescription medications, which means they still come with all the usual precautions such as drug-drug/herbal, drug-disease, and drug-food interactions. OTC medications are generally used only as needed to help with your symptoms. Do not use them on a regular basis unless instructed by your doctor. Using them regularly may mask underlying medical issues, which can lead to delayed treatment and worsen your prognosis. Always remember to read the labels on the bottle carefully, and follow the dosing instructions. If your symptoms do not resolve or worsen within a few days, please consult with your doctor or pharmacist.
In general, OTC medications are safe and effective when used properly. As more medications are becoming available OTC over the next few years, this will certainly play a major role in keeping US healthcare costs down.