What Over-the-Counter Analgesics Are
Over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics are a class of medicines that relieve pain. Depending on the dosage form, some may also reduce fever. There are two different categories of analgesics: internal and external. Internal analgesics are pain relievers and fever reducers. These medicines are intended for internal use and are either taken by mouth in the form of pills and liquids, or inserted into the rectum in suppository form. External analgesics are topical pain relievers and are not intended to reduce fever. These medicines are for external use only and are applied directly to the outer body surface in lotions, sprays, and other forms. Before selecting an OTC analgesic medicine, you should first consider the type of symptoms you are experiencing and then determine the best course of treatment.
What Topical Pain Relievers Are for
Topical pain relievers, or external analgesics, are a group of different medicines that are used “externally,” which means on the skin. Some are intended to relieve minor body aches and pains such as backache, muscle ache, and arthritis. Some products soothe sunburn and minor burns, while others are used for itching and skin irritations due to eczemas, contact allergies, and insect bites.
How Topical Pain Relievers Work
Topical pain relievers, like all OTC medicines, contain certain active ingredients that make them work in the human body. The product’s active ingredients, including how much of a substance is in each dose, are listed first on the Drug Facts label.
Depending on the active ingredients, topical pain relievers are intended to treat a number of different conditions, including inflammation, minor aches and pains of joints and muscles, sunburn and other minor burns, and itching and irritation. Many products are available to consumers over the counter in spray, lotion, cream, gel, ointment, patch, and medicated wipe form.
Below is a list of the active ingredients in topical pain relievers and how they work:
- Benzocaine – Numbing action reducing itching, burning, and pain on skin
- Camphor – Cooling action reducing itching, burning, and pain on skin, as well as joint and muscle aches
- Capsaicin – Warming action reducing joint and muscle aches
- Diphenhydramine – Reduces itching and redness on skin
- Hydrocortisone – Reduces itching and redness on skin
- Lidocaine – Numbing action reducing itching, burning, and pain on skin
- Menthol – Cooling action reducing itching, burning, and pain on skin, as well as joint and muscle aches
- Methyl salicylate – Relieves joint and muscle aches
- Pramoxine – Numbing action reducing itching, burning, and pain on skin
- Trolamine salicylate – Relieves joint and muscle aches