Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are those that can be sold and purchased without a prescription. OTC medicines are used to treat a variety of illnesses and symptoms, including pain, cough and colds, allergies, rashes, diarrhea, constipation and others. Just like prescription drugs, OTC products can cause side effects, bad reactions and serious harm if taken in the wrong way, wrong amount or mixed with certain other medicines. Both accidental or intentional poisonings can occur with OTC medications and affect anyone from children to older adults.
Some of the most common OTC substances we get called about include medications for pain, allergies, cough and cold, and sleep.
Call the 24-Hour Poison Help Line for Additional Support:
OTC Medicine Safety Tips
- Always read and follow the entire Drug Facts label before using an OTC medicine. This will help you select the right product for your symptoms. It also has important dosing instructions and warnings. Ask your pharmacist for assistance in selecting a product if you are unsure of what would be best.
- Take your medicine exactly as stated on the label. Taking it more frequently or in higher quantities can be harmful.
- Use caution when taking more than one OTC medicine. Many OTC medicines contain the same active ingredients. Never take medicines with the same active ingredient at the same time.
- Don’t combine prescriptions and OTC medicines without talking to a healthcare professional first. Sometimes combining drugs can cause adverse reactions. Ask your doctor or pharmacist any questions you may have.
- Give infants and children medicines according to their age and weight. Unless labeled otherwise, adult-strength products shouldn’t be given to children under age 12. Doing so could cause accidental overdosing. Never cut adult tablets in half or estimate a child’s dose of an adult-strength liquid product.
- OTC-approved cough and cold medicines are not recommended to be given to children less than 6 years of age. Ask a healthcare provider for assistance if a child is less than 6
- Use the dosing device that comes with the liquid medicine. If the medicine does not come with a dosing device, ask the pharmacist for one that should be used. Do not use a kitchen spoon.
- Store all medicines up, away and out of sight, even OTC medicines.
- Make sure that child safety caps are locked on all medicines after use.
- Always keep OTC medicines in their original packaging so you have the dosing information available.
- Check the use-by and expiration dates, and safely dispose of any that are outdated. You can mix leftover or expired OTC medicines with coffee grounds or kitty litter for safe disposal. See additional information on our safe medicine disposal page.