OTC Medicine: Can You Buy Over The Counter Online?

Kiera Powell, R.N.

Verified by Kiera Powell, R.N. and written by Chad Birt on Thu Oct 21 2021.

Medically Verified

OTC Medicine: Can You Buy Over The Counter Online?

OTC medicines are drugs you can buy without a prescription from your doctor. They don't require approval from a pharmacist and can be purchased at most groceries, pharmacies, and convenience stores.

Thanks to the rise of smartphones, tablets, and other web-based technologies, many OTC drugs can now be purchased online. In this blog post, we take a closer look at OTC medications, explain some of their benefits, and highlight a few of our best-selling products.

What is OTC medication?

Over-the-counter medication is a group of nonprescription drugs that treat common health problems, such as headaches, fevers, stomachaches, and rashes. Some OTC medicines correct underlying infections, like athlete's foot; others reduce uncomfortable symptoms caused by recurring conditions, like allergies or arthritis.

OTC drugs are unique in that they don't require the approval of your doctor. Any medication that receives OTC status undergoes extensive testing and review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Even so, these medicines can present risks. As a result, it's important to read the instructions on the bottle or box and follow them closely.

Is taking OTC drugs safe?

OTC drugs are safe and usually well-tolerated, but they can present risks, including:

  • Negative interactions with other prescription drugs, vitamins, or supplements you take

  • Allergic reactions

  • Overdosing or underdosing

Some medicines aren't safe for people with underlying medical conditions. For example, if you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it's important to avoid NSAIDs as they might increase your risk of a heart attack.

What are some of the most common OTC medicines?

Over-the-counter medicines fall into several categories, including decongestants, antihistamines, cough medicine, and pain medicine. Let's take a closer look at each type:

Decongestants. These drugs relieve congestion in your sinuses and upper respiratory tract. They come in various forms, including pills, capsules, and syrups. These medicines break up excess mucus, making it easier to eliminate by coughing or blowing your nose.

Antihistamines. Antihistamines relieve the uncomfortable side effects of an allergic reaction. When your body's immune system encounters an allergen—like pollen, fungus, or pet dander—it produces chemicals called histamines. Histamines trigger symptoms like itching, a runny nose, or watery eyes. Antihistamines relieve these symptoms, helping you feel better.

Cough Medicine. There are several types of cough medicine including expectorants and suppressants. Expectorants loosen up the mucus in your airways, making it easier to cough up or blow out. Suppressants relieve side effects, like an itchy throat, reducing the urge to cough and helping you breathe more comfortably.

Pain medicine. Pain medicine is divided into two groups—acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Acetaminophen stops pain signals from reaching certain areas of your brain. It can relieve fevers or reduce aches and pains. NSAIDs reduce the production of prostaglandins –– a hormone-like substance that causes you to feel pain. There are several types of NSAIDs, including ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen.

Please note the importance of following the directions on the manufacturer label to avoid adverse effects. For example, there are limits on some pain medications—if someone were to take them around the clock daily for pain relief, they would quickly add up resulting in potentially dangerous effects.

There are also non-pharmacological methods like using heat and ice for pain. For congestion, using a humidifier can also help relieve symptoms.

Here at Carewell, we carry a variety of OTC medications, including pain relievers, cold medicine, and decongestants. Below, we've highlighted some of our best sellers:

1. Dextromethorphan: Mucinex Fast-Max DM Max Cold and Cough Relief. With cold and flu season fast approaching, you'll want to add Mucinex to your caregiver's first-aid kit. The medicine works by thinning and loosening excess mucus while suppressing your cough. Plus, it's cherry-flavored for a more palatable experience.

2. Decongestants: Major Sinus Relief Spray. This sinus relief spray from Major is formulated to clear your airways for up to 12 hours. When applied, the spray shrinks swollen nasal membranes, allowing you to breathe clearly without negative side effects like drowsiness.

3. (Tylenol): Geri-Care Acetaminophen. Geri-Care products are specifically formulated for people 65 and older. They come in liquid or pill form and relieve minor aches and pains caused by arthritis, the common cold, overuse, or general wear-and-tear.

4. Antihistamines: Benadryl Allergy Relief. Allergies can strike at any time, causing watery eyes, a runny nose, or congestion. Benadryl provides quick relief that lasts between four and six hours. If your allergies are severe, it's safe to take up to six tablets during a 24-hour period.

5. Cough medicine: Geri-Care Cold and Cough Relief. This cough medicine is an expectorant. It reduces congestion in the airways, making it easier to breathe clearly. It's non-drowsy and doesn't contain any sugar, making it ideal for people with diabetes.

6. Aspirin: Geri-Care Regular Strength Enteric Coated Aspirin. Aspirin is a type of NSAID. These tablets from Geri-Care are 325 mg and have an enteric coating so the medication doesn't dissolve too quickly once it's swallowed.

7. Ibuprofen: Sunmark Ibuprofen Pain Relief. Many seniors experience aches and pains caused by arthritis, general wear and tear, or the natural aging process. Ibuprofen provides immediate relief, making it easier to stay mobile and do routine tasks.

Side note: Pseudoephedrine is another popular OTC drug, but it's considered a controlled substance. As a result, it's not available for purchase online.

What if I have questions about OTC medicine?

If you still have questions about buying OTC medication online, contact our friendly Care Specialists at any time. Call (800) 696-CARE during normal business hours or send an email to support@carewell.com.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.