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Non-medical over-the counter pills could interact with prescriptions or lead to health problems. This is a quick guide to what you should do with the drugs that you buy from the pharmacy.

OTC medications are great for short-term problems such as allergies, headaches and minor injuries. And if you’ve been turning to OTC options since the pandemic started instead of going to the doctor you’re not alone.

“Many of my patients haven’t seen their primary care physician or even certain specialists in almost two years,” said Ken Perry, A Charleston-based emergency physician. “It’s not uncommon for patients to make their way to the pharmacy to try to fix their ailments on their own, and COVID has further exacerbated this issuePlease read the following:”

For many people, it’s appropriate and safe to find an OTC medication to help alleviate their symptoms at home without much concern for harm, Perry said. But if you take certain OTCs long-term and don’t update your doctor or pharmacist about what you’re doing, things can get dicey.

Say you’re taking an over-the-counter NSAID ― a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug ― for pain relief, and you don’t disclose this to your doctor. If you go to your doctor’s office with pain that they diagnose as arthritis or some other inflammation, they may give you an NSAID or equivalent prescription to take.

“If that patient takes both medications, they can possibly cause GI bleeding or even kidney damage,” Perry said.

If you’re on prescription medications, taking certain OTCs in tandem can reduce their efficacy and may cause adverse effects.

“Your age can also impact how your body will react to an OTC medicine,” said Janice Johnston, co-founder and chief medical officer of the U.S. health care plan Redirect Health. “By keeping your doctor up-to-date about your OTC usage, they’ll be able to give their expert opinion on the best — and safest — course of action for your overall well-being.”

Plus, the persistent symptoms you’re masking with OTC medications could be a sign of an underlying condition that your doctor can help you nail down and treat.

Each OTC medicine has recommended dosages, and information about when to inform your doctor, printed right on the label — but here are some general guidelines on common OTCs to get you started:


Acetaminophen, a commonly used OTC medicine that is best for treating pain and fever.

“It’s generally safe when taken as directed for up to 10 days,” Johnston said. “However, you should check with your health care provider if you have any medical conditions or are on any medications where acetaminophen should be avoided.” (Think: if you have liver disease or are taking warfarin, a blood thinner.)

According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration there are over 600 OTC and prescription medicines that contain acetaminophen It’s crucial to read medication labels carefully to make sure you don’t exceed the maximum daily dose, as this can cause liver damage — especially if combined with alcohol. A prescription medicine that contains acetaminophen might not have the whole word on the label. It might also use the abbreviation “APAP.”)

Acetaminophen can be safely taken by most healthy individuals if they do not take more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen per day. They should also follow the instructions on the medication label.

“Contact your primary care provider if your symptoms get worse or new symptoms appear for more than three days,” said Jessica Nouhavandi, co-founder and lead pharmacist of the online pharmacy Honeybee Health


Aspirin is prescribed for the temporary relief of pain, fever and swelling. Low daily dosages are also used to protect against heart attack or clot-related strokes.

It’s generally safe to take as directed for up to three days for fever, or up to 10 days for pain “If you wish to use aspirin daily for chronic pain, make sure to connect with your physician first,” said Siddharth Tambar, a board-certified rheumatologist with Chicago Arthritis and Regenerative Medicine.

It is the same if you take aspirin to prevent heart attack. many health factorsAll of these factors should be taken into account. Aspirin therapy can be beneficial to people with low heart disease risk, such as those who take daily aspirin. don’t outweigh the long-term toxicity risksAspirin may cause stomach ulcers and internal bleeding.

“The daily consumption of aspirin can also cause easy bruising and dangerous acid-base imbalances in your blood” said Spencer Kroll,New Jersey-based pharmacologist and internal medicine specialist who is board certified. These can be severely affect vital organsYour lungs, kidneys and other organs.

Only people who have a history of heart disease, or are at very high risk, should take aspirin. Mayo Clinic

Pain relievers shouldn't be used for an extended amount of time without checking in with a physician.
Grace Cary via Getty Images
It is important to consult a doctor before using pain relievers for extended periods of time.


NSAIDs like naproxen and ibuprofen are used to temporarily relieve symptoms and decrease inflammation.

NSAIDs, when taken exactly as prescribed and used for a limited time (3 days to treat fever and 10 for pain), are generally safe. If you take them for longer than that, it’s important to consult with your doctor for further instruction, Tambar said.

Long-term, high blood pressure and heart attacks can be increased by long-term medication, regardless of whether or not you have heart disease. Mayo Clinicwhich is why it’s so important your doctor has your NSAID use on their radar.

“You should also check with your doctor before taking NSAIDs if you have preexisting conditions or are taking other prescription medications” Johnston said. They have the potential to cause gastrointestinal bleeding, especially in people who’ve had stomach ulcers or bleeding problems before.

NSAIDs aren’t recommended for people who are planning to get pregnant or have currently been pregnant for 20 weeks or longer,Nouhavandi explained that medications like these can be harmful to unborn babies.


Antihistamines may be prescribed for the temporary relief of seasonal allergy symptoms. They’re broken down into two categories — first- and second-generation.

According to The CDC, first-gens can cross the blood-brain boundary and cause sleepiness. Second-gens, on the other hand, interact with less drugs and are more likely to cause sleepiness. Cleveland Clinic

“Many allergy medications are safe for everyday use and often treat symptoms better when used daily,” Johnston said. For otherwise healthy people with year-round allergies, second-generation antihistamines (like Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec) maintain their effectiveness even if taken daily, and they don’t cause drowsiness.

If you have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, glaucoma or high blood pressure, you should talk to your provider before taking antihistamines to make sure there aren’t any contraindications. (The same goes if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.)

Acid Reducers

Antacids provide quick relief for heartburn, acid reflux and upset stomach.

They’re generally safe for long-term use when used as directed, but it’s recommended to check in with your doctor if you have to pop antacids more than twice a week or your symptoms aren’t relieved after two weeks of use.

“Antacids are extremely effective at reducing stomach acid — so much so, the reduction of pain that comes from the reduction of acid could mask underlying health conditions, such as peptic ulcer disease or even stomach cancer,” Kroll said.

Another reason it’s important to consult with your doctor about your antacid use is the possibility of drug-to-drug interactions, Nouhavandi said. Because antacids can change the way your body absorbs other medicines you’re taking, it’s best to take your other meds either one hour before or four hours afterYou can take anti-inflammatories.

People who are pregnant should consult with their doctor before using antacids to make sure they’re making the safest choice, Nouhavandi said. Aspirin-containing antacids can increase the risk of various complicationsAntibiotics that contain sodium are not recommended. can cause fluid buildup

Salt-containing antacids can be continued. result in kidney problems if a low-sodium diet isn’t implemented, Nouhavandi added.

Anti-nausea medication

OTC anti-nausea medication can help manage an upset stomach. This is especially true if you have motion sickness and vertigo.

“Common OTC anti-nausea medications include Pepto Bismol and Dramamine,” Johnston said. “Each one manages symptoms in its own unique way, whether through reducing the amount of acid in the stomach or through blocking the receptors in the brain that cause nausea.”

You can take the medication for as long or short as you like depending on its type. Dramamine Non-Drowsy may be safe for two days, while Pepto Bismol is only good for one day. However, your doctor should see you if you have persistent symptoms.

“By continuing to take OTC anti-nausea medications, you put yourself at risk of experiencing side effects, including drowsiness, headaches, insomnia and more,” Johnston said. You could also be hiding a condition that requires treatment.

Anti-gas medication

“OTC anti-gas medications are often made with simethicone, which works by enabling the gas bubbles within the intestines to come together, therefore making it easier for your body to expel the gas,” Johnston said.

Generally, they’re safe even when taken daily, so long as the correct dosage is being followed.

“But if you’re experiencing ongoing discomfort due to gas buildup, it’s important to reach out to your medical provider for help,” Johnston said ― especially if the gas you’re experiencing is persistent or severeIt may also be accompanied with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and unintentional weight gain. You could have a serious problem such as diabetes or gastroparesis

A brief chat with your doctor can help you come up with a solid health plan.
Getty Images: d3sign
It’s possible to have a brief conversation with your doctor and come up with an effective health plan.

Anti-diarrheal medication

OTC medications for diarrhea can provide quick relief, stopping loose stool from the intestines or slowing it down. “It’s important to note that diarrhea medications often won’t treat the underlying cause of diarrhea, and are simply meant to provide short-term relief,” Johnston said.

Pay attention to the instructions and take the prescribed dosage. The diarrhea should disappear within days, if it is due to bacteria and viruses. “If it persists longer than that, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional,” Johnston said

If you’re on prescription meds (such as blood thinners, or medication for arthritis, diabetes or gout), check in with your doctor before taking an anti-diarrheal, as it may impact the efficacy of your medications, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Use laxatives

A great solution to constipation can be laxatives. “There are various ways different laxatives work within the body,” Johnston said.

They add bulk to the stool to make it more comfortable and to stimulate intestinal muscle contractions. Other aim to speed things up by increasing the rate of contractions within your intestines.

These bulk-forming laxatives can be used generally safe for ongoing useIt can help promote regular digestion and is especially beneficial for people suffering from conditions such as hemorhoids or irritable bowel syndrome. However, they can cause side effects like bloating, gas or cramps, especially if you don’t drink enough water, so make sure to follow the directions on the label closely.

Stimulants, on the other hand, should Only be used if absolutely necessary — for no longer than one week — and onlyUnder the care of a doctor.

Laxatives may interfere with your body’s absorption of certain medications and nutrients and can lead to an electrolyte imbalance, especially after prolonged use, according to the Mayo ClinicYou can also become a. The body may also be able to become too dependent on laxativesIt can be found atYour colon may stop working properly.

“Your doctor should be alerted of any sudden change in your bowel habits that are present for more than a few weeks,” Kroll said. “This could indicate many different disease processes.”

Use sleep aids

“OTC sleep medications can help individuals struggling with acute insomnia or jet lag fall asleep faster, often through binding to specific receptors in the brain that cause drowsiness,” Johnston said.

However, these sleep aids aren’t intended for long-term use. You may develop tolerance to the sedative effects quickly. Therefore, you should not take these sleep aids for longer than necessary to get a good night’s rest.

“When used long-term, people can become reliant on — and even addicted to — sleep aids,” Johnston said. They can also cause daytime sleepiness and problems with memory, concentration, and even memory.

It’s generally recommended that OTC sleep aids not be used any longer than two weeks, according to the Mayo ClinicYou can. You should also check in with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure the sleep aid you choose doesn’t mess with any medications you’re on.

Vitamin supplements

Healthy eating habits should include adequate vitamins and minerals for healthy living. “There may be reasons to use a quality daily multivitamin that has the recommended daily allowance (such as being vegetarian or vegan), which are generally safe to use for most people,” Johnston said.

But it’s important to consult with your health care provider on the use and proper dosage of individual vitamin supplements, like vitamin D or vitamin A. Too high of a dosage can cause side effects and interfere with medication. (“Vitamins E and K can also increase risk of bleeding if you’re taking blood thinners,” Johnston said.)

“Timing is critical for some vitamins, in that they can interfere with the absorption of some medications if taken at the same time,” Kroll said. You can have your doctor check the effectiveness of your medication and vitamins.

Nouhavandi says the best way for you to figure out whether you are a candidate to take a vitamin supplement is to do your bloodwork. You can have your doctor recommend correct dosages as well as keep track of any possible deficiencies.


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