FAQ

Questions about your over-the-counter (OTC) medicines? We’re here to help. Read on for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about OTCs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Over-the-counter medicine is also known as OTC or nonprescription medicine. These terms refer to medicine that you can buy without a prescription.

OTCs can treat a wide variety of symptoms and ailments. Some OTCs provide temporary relief to pain, allergies, and minor cuts. Others treat recurring symptoms and conditions, like migraines or heartburn. Always match your symptoms to the OTC you are taking, and ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have any questions.

OTC dosage directions are instructions that should be followed exactly, unless a healthcare provider specifically tells you otherwise. This means you should never take more of a medicine than the label says, or for a longer period of time than the medicine label says. While OTCs are safe and effective when taken according to the label, no medicine is without risk, including OTCs.

Always read and follow medicine labels to understand dosage strength and unique dosing directions for each OTC. Taking more than directed can lead to an overdose. Avoid taking multiple medicines that contain the same active ingredient, and never take a medicine for a longer period of time or in higher doses than the label recommends.

The label for OTCs is called the Drug Facts label. This is the type of label using rule by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the back and often the sides of the OTC box or package. It presents important information for the safe and effective use of an OTC in the same format and order for every medicine. Every OTC Drug Facts label on store shelves has been approved by FDA.

Pregnancy is an exciting time and a great chance to take charge of your health. For many women, when you are pregnant or nursing you are more likely to pay more attention than ever to what goes into your body and you know that not all medicines are safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Back pain and heartburn are two of the most common discomforts that come along with pregnancy, so be sure to discuss the products that can help you safely relieve those symptoms with your healthcare provider or pharmacist. The best thing you can do for your health and the health of your baby is to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any medicine when pregnant, breastfeeding, or when planning to become pregnant.

Your healthcare provider can provide the best information about whether an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine may be right for you, but always keep the following tips in mind:

  • Discuss taking any medicines during your pregnancy with your healthcare provider.
  • Do not take certain pain relievers during the last three months of your pregnancy, since they may cause problems in your unborn child or complications during delivery.
  • When breastfeeding, always ask your healthcare provider before taking any medication.
  • If your healthcare provider recommends you take medication while breastfeeding, time it so that you can take the medicine after nursing or before your baby’s longest nap.

When giving medicine to children, it is important to only use a product that treats your child’s specific symptoms. Do not give a medicine only intended for adults to a child. When possible, dose by your child’s weight following the instructions on the label. Always give the recommended dose and use the correct measuring device. And remember; keep all medicines and vitamins out of your child’s reach and sight. Ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions.

Just like the dosing instructions and additional information on the label, the expiration date on the packaging is there for reason. Once a medicine has reached its expiration date, it may not provide the treatment that you need. To ensure the medicines you take are both safe and effective, keep an eye on the expiration dates and safely dispose of any expired or unwanted medicines.

Follow these simple steps from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to dispose of OTCs in your household trash:

  • 1. Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds.
  • Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  • Throw the container in your household trash.