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How to Safely Choose OTC Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and pain relievers, laxatives, and headache remedies may treat different conditions, but they all have one thing in common: They’re serious medicines that need to be taken with care.

OTCs medications are real medicines and can have side effects and risks, even though you don’t need a prescription to buy them. Generally they are safe when taken exactly as directed on the label, but can be dangerous if the wrong dosage is taken, the right amount is taken too often, or they interact with other medications you take.

When taking OTCs, always read the label. This will help you decide if you have selected the right product for your symptoms. By reading the label, you will find the dosing instructions and read about any warnings that may apply to you, such as not to take a medication if you have high blood pressure, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, or if you are pregnant.

The label will tell you what to avoid while taking the medicine. Like prescription medicines, some OTC drugs can cause side effects or reactions. Read the label to see what to steer clear of while you’re taking an OTC drug.

Take medication exactly as stated on the label. If that dosage or amount does not help your symptoms, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

You should use extra caution when taking more than one medication at a time.

Some prescription medications contain the same ingredients that are in OTC medications. Combining two or more of these medications would result in an overdose.

If, for example, you take a prescription drug that contains acetaminophen, and then take an OTC form of acetaminophen, you could risk developing liver failure.

Always read and follow the directions on OTC medicines. When in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.