Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are drugs you can buy without a prescription. Some OTC medicines relieve aches, pains and itches. Some prevent or cure diseases, like tooth decay and athlete's foot. Others help manage recurring problems, like migraines.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration decides whether a medicine is safe enough to sell over-the-counter. Taking OTC medicines still has risks. Some interact with other medicines, supplements, foods or drinks. Others cause problems for people with certain medical conditions. If you're pregnant, talk to your health care provider before taking any medicines.
It is important to take medicines correctly, and be careful when giving them to children. More medicine does not necessarily mean better. You should never take OTC medicines longer or in higher doses than the label recommends. If your symptoms don't go away, it's a clear signal that it's time to see your healthcare provider.
Food and Drug Administration
- Getting the Most from Your OTC Medicine (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Medicines in My Home: Information for Adults on Using Over-the-Counter Medicines Safely (Food and Drug Administration) - PDF
- MedlinePlus: Drug Information - Information on prescription and over-the-counter medicines and supplements Also in Spanish
- Over-the-Counter Medicines: What's Right for You? (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
- Checklist for Choosing Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medicine for Adults (Food and Drug Administration) - PDF
- Current Over-the-Counter Medicine Label: Take a Look (Food and Drug Administration)
- Generic Drugs: Questions and Answers (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
- Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) Also in Spanish
- OTC Medicines: Know Your Risks, and Reduce Them (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Use Over-the-Counter Medicines Wisely (National Council on Patient Information and Education) - PDF
- Using Medicines Wisely (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
- What Are Unapproved Drugs and Why Are They on the Market? (Food and Drug Administration)
- Antihistamines: Understanding Your OTC Options (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Best Way to Take Your Over-the-Counter Pain Reliever? Seriously. (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
- Careful: Acetaminophen in Pain Relief Medicines Can Cause Liver Damage (Food and Drug Administration)
- Medicines for Pain: From Osteoarthritis to Muscle Pain (National Center for Farmworker Health, Consumers Union of U.S.) - PDF Also in Spanish
- Questions and Answers on Unapproved Chelation Products (Food and Drug Administration)
Health Check Tools
- Be MedWise Quiz (National Council on Patient Information and Education)
Statistics and Research
- Pharmacogenomics Fact Sheet (National Institute of General Medical Sciences)
Journal ArticlesReferences and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Common over-the-counter medicines are linked to cognitive impairment in elderly...
- Article: Traditional Chinese Patent Medicine for Acute Ischemic Stroke: An Overview...
- Article: RX-TO-OTC SWITCH AND DOUBLE REGISTRATION OCCURRENCE IN POLAND--AN ILLUMINATIVE CASE...
- Over-the-Counter Medicines -- see more articles
- Dos and Don'ts of Giving OTC Cough and Cold Medicines to Your Child (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Taking Medicines (National Institute of General Medical Sciences)