Over-the-Counter Medications

image of shelf medications

There are over 100,000 products that the FDA labels as “over-the-counter” or OTC, but the use of these medications is not as strictly regulated as prescription medications. Just because a medication is over the counter does not mean that it is always safe to use. At high enough doses, all medications can be unsafe or toxic. This is why being able to fully understand the information on a medication label and measure appropriate dosages for medications is so important. Additionally, some over-the-counter medications should not be used if you have certain health conditions. Did you know people with high blood pressure shouldn’t take aspirin or ibuprofen? (*1 see reference below) Learn more about over-the-counter medications below!

All About NSAIDs

What are NSAIDs?

  • NSAIDs are both available as OTC and prescription products that are commonly used for reducing pain, inflammation, fever, and clotting
  • Examples include naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin

Common Uses/Indications

  • Arthritis
  • Headache/migraine
  • Back pain
  • Fever
  • Inflammation 

Side Effects

  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeds
  • Increases the risk of heart attack and stroke

Drug Interactions

  • Taking multiple NSAIDs such as Advil and Naproxen
  • Anticoagulants like apixaban and NSAIDs 
  • Diuretics like furosemide and NSAIDs 
  • Anti-hypertensive medications like lisinopril and NSAIDs 

Safety Tips

  • Follow the directions on the ‘Drug Facts’ section for proper dosing
  • Take the smallest effective dose for the shortest amount of time
  • Take only ONE product that includes an NSAID at a time
  • Bring your list of prescription, OTC, and herbal medications to your next appointment with your provider
  • Discuss using NSAIDs prior to use if you are over 60 years old or have a history of heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, stomach bleeding/ulcers, liver disease, or kidney disease
  • Talk to a health professional if you have any questions about choosing or using an NSAID
Download Printable NSAIDS Handout (PDF)

OTC Measurement Requirements

Why The Label Matters:

  • The label appears on all OTC medications that can be purchased without a doctor’s orders.
  • Give the purpose of the medication along with who should take it and the recommended dose.

Exact Dose?

  • It is important to get an accurate measurement when taking OTC products. 
  • The label will tell you how much medicine you should take based on your age and/or weight.
  • Measuring spoons and other household spoons should not be used to measure a dose of medicine due to their many shapes and sizes. 

Why is OTC Med Safety Important?

  • Self-medicating has become common
  • Growing range of nonprescription drugs for a large variety of complaints
  • OTC medication use is safe and effective when used correctly
  • Problems arise when taken incorrectly

Understand the Label

  • Active Ingredients that make the medicine work and their uses
  • Safety information including side effects and warnings
  • Directions on the amount of medicine to take and how often to take it

Safety Tips for OTC Medication

  • Always follow label
  • Correct use and dose
  • Measure carefully
  • Use the proper dosing device
  • Ask a pharmacist, doctor, or nurse if you have ANY questions
  • Store all medicines “up and away” out of reach and  sight of children
  • Know the active ingredient
  • Do not take multiple products with the same active ingredient
Download Printable OTC Medications Handout (PDF)

Over the Counter Medication – Acetaminophen For a Child


  1. Research C for DE and OTC Drug Facts Label. FDA. Published online March 19, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-consumers-and-patients-drugs/otc-drug-facts-label

Additional Resources

More information on how to read over-the-counter medication labels: OTC Drug Facts Label | FDA