Over the Counter Drugs

Over the Counter Medications

The number of medications available without a prescription grows annually, increasing the risk of possible drug interactions, especially for seniors. Check with your physician or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) medication.

Medication Types and Common Side Effects

  • Analgesics are pain relievers. Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol®, is found in many combination OTC and prescription pain medications. In excess, it may be toxic to the liver. Aspirin may cause nausea or upset stomach.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen (Motrin®) and naproxen (Naprosyn®) can cause upset stomach. They also interact with many medications and disease states. Patients taking warfarin should avoid using these drugs, as should patients with ulcers or kidney disease. NSAIDs are also used in combination products, so be aware of all ingredients.
  • Natural or herbal products can adversely interact with either OTC or prescription medications. Please check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting an herbal medication.
  • Oral decongestants relieve stuffiness and congestion. Phenylephrine (Sudafed PE®) and pseudoephedrine (Sudafed PSE®) may cause nervousness, insomnia, increased heart rate or blood pressure, or headache.
  • Nasal topical decongestants relieve nasal stuffiness. Oxymetazoline (Afrin 12-hr®) may cause nasal burning/irritation, or worsen symptoms if used too long.
  • Antihistamines decrease allergic symptoms or reactions. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), loratidine (Claritin®), and cetirizine (Zyrtec®) may be associated with drowsiness, dry mouth, or blurry vision. Seniors and children may experience restlessness or insomnia.

Understanding Abbreviations

Many OTC medications use initials in their product names that can help you determine what the medication is for. Below are a few definitions; if you ever have questions about a drug’s purpose, ask your pharmacist.

  • DM = dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant (as in Robitussin DM®)
  • HB = heartburn (Tagamet HB®)
  • PE = phenylephrine, a decongestant (Sudafed PE®)
  • AD = antidiarrheal (Imodium AD®)
  • AF = antifungal (Lotrimin AF®)