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Increasing patient involvement in the diagnosis and treatment of common ailments has led to a greater interest in self-care and an increase in the use of OTC drugs.

OTC drugs mean Over-the-counter medicine. It is also known as Non-prescription medicine.  Over the counter (OTC) drugs are products that can be dispensed even without the written order or prescription of a licensed physician or dentist, for the symptomatic relief of minor or self-limiting ailments.

These drugs can be sold under the direct supervision of a registered and licensed pharmacist and can be advertised.

'OTC' preparations have no legal recognition and are better referred to as 'Non-prescription drugs' and/or as 'household remedies'.

Nonprescription medications now account for about 60 percent of all medications used in the United States and may be used to treat or cure about 400 ailments.

They are safe and effective when you follow the directions on the label and as directed by your health care professional.

OTC drugs are double edged knife. Although these drugs are legal, they can still be deadly if used incorrectly. All the drugs which are not specified in the list

of 'prescription drugs' must be considered as Non-prescription drugs.

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs play an increasingly vital role in any countries health care system.

By placing widely used painkillers, pain balms and cough syrups under OTC, they can be sold at the counters of grocery stores and other shops without a drug license

Criteria that allow a prescription drug to be reclassified as an OTC drug include the following: similar indications for both prescription and nonprescription uses; easy diagnosis and monitoring by the patient, and favorable adverse-effect and drug-interaction profiles

Switching a product from prescription to over-the-counter status permits the drug manufacturer to market the product for several more years without generic competition.

OTC drugs generally have these characteristics:

  • their benefits outweigh their risks
  • the potential for misuse and abuse is low
  • consumer can use them for self-diagnosed conditions
  • they can be adequately labeled
  • health practitioners are not needed for the safe and effective use of the product

Most common drugs are:

Cold & cough remedies: such as a runny nose, congestion, sore throat

Pain Relievers: are drugs used to ease pain for small aches and sores. Eg: Crocin (paracetamal) and Brufen (Ibuprofen)

Headache Relievers: are drugs used to calm headaches, Paracetamal and Aspirin are the best examples

Allergy Medication: are drugs to help relieve the seasonal colds, flu, and allergies caused by the seasonal moulds and pollens.

Other clinical conditions were OTC drugs available are:

  • Pain and Fever Medicines
  • Anti-emetics
  • Asthma
  • Athlete's Foot
  • Birth Control
  • Burns
  • Corns
  • Dandruff
  • Diabetic Home Care and Monitoring
  • Diarrhea
  • Dyspepsia and Heartburn
  • Ear Wax
  • External Otitis
  • Eye Care
  • Gas, Flatulence and Bloating
  • Hair Loss
  • Hemorrhoids and Anal Itching
  • Infant Formulas
  • Insect Stings and Bites
  • Itching
  • Laxatives for Constipation
  • Poison Ivy, Oak & Sumac
  • Quitting Smoking
  • Seborrhea
  • Sleep Aids and Stimulants
  • Sun Protection & Sunscreens
  • Warts
  • Weight Loss and Maintenance
  • Acne Home Care

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A key issue here is the safety in using OTC drugs. As these drugs will be taken without any medical advice, label comprehension with regard to disease symptoms, directions for use, warnings, etc is extremely important. Tendency to take higher doses of an OTC medicine and its use for longer periods are possible dangers associated with them.

Better Utilization of OTC drugs:

Always Read the Label

Reading the product label is the most important part of taking care of yourself or your family when using over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. This is especially true because many OTC medicines are taken without seeing a doctor. The OTC medicine label has always contained important usage and safety information for consumers, but now that information will be more consistent and even easier to read and to understand. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a regulation to make sure the labels on all OTC medicines (from a tube of fluoride toothpaste to a bottle of cough syrup) have information listed in the same order; are arranged in a simpler eye-catching, consistent style; and may contain easier to understand words. While the new labels on a majority of OTC drug products will be appearing on store shelves soon, some products and companies have additional time to comply with the new labeling regulations. If you read the OTC medicine label and still have questions about the product, talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.

Use of the Label in OTC Drugs:

  • Active Ingredient.  Therapeutic substance in product; amount of active ingredient per unit.
  • Uses.  Symptoms or diseases the product will treat or prevent.
  • Warnings.  When not to use the product; conditions that may require advice from a doctor before taking the product; possible interactions or side effects; when to stop taking the product and when to contact a doctor; if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, seek guidance from a health care professional; keep product out of children’s reach.
  • Inactive Ingredients.  Substances such as colors or flavors.
  • Purpose.  Product action or category (such as antihistamine, antacid, or cough suppressant.
  • Directions.  Specific age categories, how much to take, how to take, and how often and how long to take.
  • Other Information.  How to store the product properly and required information about certain ingredients (such as the amount of calcium, potassium, or sodium the product contains)

In Indian scenario there were no rules to guide which are OTC drugs and which are not; the worst part of the story is we will get almost all the drugs Over the Counter without prescription except opiod drugs and Anesthetic drugs.

In the United States, the manufacture and sale of OTC substances is regulated by the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration Authority) but In India there were no guidelines were frames which drugs should be sold as OTC drugs.

According to US-FDA (Food and Drugs Administration Authority)


  • Antacids
  • Allergy medications
  • Pain relievers including aspirin
  • Anti-diarrhea medicine & laxatives
  • Menstrual cycle products for pain and cramp relief
  • Cough syrup, drops, throat lozenges
  • Sinus medications & nasal sinus sprays
  • Nicotine gum or patches for smoking cessation
  • Special ointment or cream for sunburn
  • Counter irritants pain relieving Balms and similar products for muscle or joint pain
  • Electoral powder for ill child’s dehydration
  • First aid cream (Anti septic creams ) like Povidine Iodine, Soframycin special diaper rash ointment, calamine lotion, bug bite medication, wart remover treatments
  • Visine and other such eye products
  • Suppositories and creams for hemorrhoids
  • Sleeping aids
  • Motion sickness pills
  • Prenatal vitamins


  • Hormone therapy and treatment for menopause
  • Dietary or herbal supplements to treat a specific medical condition
  • Fiber supplements to treat a specific medical condition
  • Sunscreen lotion
  • Weight-loss drugs to treat a specific disease including obesity
  • Lactose intolerant pills
  • Nasal spray for snoring
  • Glucosamine or Chondroitin for arthritis
  • Medicated shampoo (excess cost over regular shampoo only)
  • Vitamins

In the US, medical devices may also be considered OTC. For example, most diabetic management supplies are available OTC. The category of medical devices includes electronic blood glucose monitors, monitor test strips, and lancets. With all the choices of over-the-counter (OTC) products available in the marketplace, it is increasingly difficult to select the proper product(s). So, one should think twice before selecting the right OTC drug. And finally, Patient education and counseling are particularly important to promote safe and effective use of over-the-counter products.

Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: May 12, 2015

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