Are Over-The-Counter Medications Safe?

Studies show four out of five adults take over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat pain, fever, allergies, heartburn and other problems. Most of the thousands of OTC medications on the market are safe when taken as directed, as long as they do not interfere with other medications or health conditions.

Many people who take OTC supplements may not realize the Food and Drug Administration does not directly monitor or approve these non-prescription drugs. It is important to do your own research to know what you are taking and why.

Taking more than the recommended dose of an OTC medication can be dangerous. For example, taking too much acetaminophen, which can be found in pain relievers, can cause severe liver damage or acute liver failure.

Read the labels on your OTC medications carefully to prevent accidental overdose. This is especially important if you take more than one medication at a time to relieve multiple symptoms. Know the ingredients, dosages, timing and other instructions.

Along with carefully reading labels, you may want to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a new OTC medication. Sometimes OTC drugs interact with medications you’ve been prescribed.

Those with chronic health conditions are at greater risk of serious adverse reactions while taking OTC medications. Adults age 65 and older are likely to have additional health issues, and take roughly 40 percent of OTC medications consumed. Because of this, seniors should take extra precaution.

In general, do not take OTC medications longer than 10 days for pain or longer than three days for fever without consulting your physician.

If you have concerns about medications, it’s important to talk to your doctor. To find a primary care doctor near you, visit or call 443-481-5555. 


Originally published Jan. 28, 2016. Last updated April 25, 2018.


Leave a Reply