Indications and Procedures (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Drugs or medications that can be purchased directly, without a prescription, are called over-the-counter (OTC) medications or drugs. These medications may be suggested by physicians or simply purchased for consumption as a result of self-diagnosis and self-prescription. Most of the common OTC medications are used to treat common ailments such as cold and fever symptoms, headache, coughs, and similar complaints. Such self-treatment may be initiated at will and discontinued at any time.
Dozens of pharmaceutical companies produce and market hundreds of drugs for sale as over-the-counter medications, but they fall into only a few categories. The basic types of OTC medications, along with some brand examples, include analgesics (Advil, Tylenol), antacids (Milk of Magnesia), antidiarrheal medications (Imodium), antifungal agents (Tinactin), antihistamines (Benadryl), antiacne treatments (Clearasil), anti-inflammatory drugs (Motrin), decongestants (Sudafed), motion sickness (Meclizine), laxatives (Metamucil, Dulcolax), dandruff treatments (Selsun Blue), expectorants (Robitussin), hair growth formulas (Rogaine), and sleep aids (L-Tryptophan).
The most frequently used category of OTC medications is analgesics, which are more popularly known as painkillers. Analgesics include a diverse group of drugs that are used to relieve soreness, general body pain, and headaches. Probably the most common analgesic is aspirin,...
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Uses and Complications (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Primarily because of liability issues, all OTC medications include labels that are sometimes extensive. Label components typically consist of a list of one or more symptoms addressed by the medication, active ingredients contained in the drug, warnings, directions for use, and the date after which the medication should be discarded. For example, the label on a common OTC medication used to treat severe colds notes that it is to be used to relieve symptoms of nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache and body ache, and fever. Directions for use are specific as to number of times a day, hours between use, and factors involving taking the medication, such as with or without glasses of water prior to or following administration and limits regarding food intake.
Most labels also carry prominent warnings regarding use with respect to age, alcohol consumption, sedatives or tranquilizers, and combinations of medications. Most over-the-counter medications also state that use should be continued only for a specified time and that, if symptoms persist, the user should stop taking the medication and consult a physician. Finally, the user is usually cautioned to stop taking the OTC medication immediately if headache, rash, nausea, or similar symptoms appear. Despite these warnings, even commonly used OTC medications pose certain health hazards, and the user is advised to take these medications with full recognition...
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Perspective and Prospects (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Originally, OTC medications were available for purchase only at pharmacies, along with physician-prescribed drugs. Today, a varied selection of OTC medications is available at many retail outlets, including supermarkets, food stores, and even convenience stores, although pharmacies still continue to offer the greatest selection. This can lead to a confusion of terms, as such medications or drugs are often no longer sold “over the counter” but instead can be found on shelves alongside other items for sale.
To complicate matters, certain drugs are offered as OTC medications at low dosages but must be obtained by prescription at higher dosages. For example, the popular analgesic ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can be purchased as an OTC medication at dosages of less than 200 milligrams, but higher dosages can be obtained only via prescription. Similarly, the antidiarrheal medication Imodium, an opiate, is available as an OTC medication in liquid form, while tablets of Imodium are available only by prescription.
The status of over-the-counter medications may change over time, depending on effectiveness and safety issues. While some OTC drugs are removed from the general market following various concerns regarding safety, other drugs are transferred from prescription drugs to OTC medications. Examples include the antihistamine drug Benadryl, which is used to relieve symptoms of allergy and guard against allergic...
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For Further Information: (Magill’s Medical Guide, Sixth Edition)
Griffith, H. Winter, and Stephen Moore. Complete Guide to Prescription and Non-Prescription Drugs. Rev. ed. New York: Penguin Group, 2010. This book provides easy-to-read descriptions of common drugs, covering both drugs prescribed by doctors and drugs available over the counter.
Litin, Scott C., ed. Mayo Clinic Family Health Book. 4th ed. New York: HarperResource, 2009. This clear and comprehensive volume details all aspects of family health. Includes good overview sections on categories, issues, concerns, and treatments with OTC medications.
Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs. Rev. ed. Pleasant View, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest, 2001. This nine-hundred-page introduction to OTC drugs is as clearly and comprehensively written as a Reader’s Digest issue.
Sanberg, Paul, and Richard M. T. Krema. Over-the-Counter Drugs: Harmless or Hazardous? New York: Chelsea House, 1986. From the series the Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Drugs. The subtitle defines the thrust of this slim book aimed at cautioning the need for intelligent use of OTC medications.
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