4 Things To Know About Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers are integral to reducing and managing pain. These medications are available without a prescription and can be purchased at any pharmacy. There are two types of OTC pain relievers—acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

You must understand how these medications work and the potential side effects that can come with them, so you’ll know how to use them effectively and safely. That said, here are things you need to know about OTC pain relievers so that you can make educated decisions about your health:

  1. What Do Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers Treat?

OTC pain medications can treat mild to moderate aches and pains such as headaches, muscle aches, menstrual cramps, arthritis pain, and toothaches. They can also reduce fever and inflammation from colds and flu.

Still, different types of OTC pain relievers work differently and may be better suited for certain types of pain. For instance, acetaminophen is effective in relieving headaches and period pains. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen are better for muscle pain and arthritis. Aspirin can be effective for pain relief and fever reduction. 

  1. Potential Risks And Complications

OTC pain meds such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, and aspirin are widely used to treat minor aches and pains. They’re generally considered safe when taken as directed, but like any medication, there are potential side effects and risks related to their use.

  • Birth Defects: Prenatal exposure to OTCs has been shown to cause some congenital disorders, with Acetaminophen linked to defects such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s also shown to increase the risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and developmental disabilities in children.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen, when taken in high doses or for a prolonged period, can cause stomach irritation and ulcers. This is particularly common if not taken with food or after meals.
  • Liver damage: Acetaminophen, when taken in excess, can cause liver damage, which can be life-threatening.
  • Allergic reactions: A few individuals may be allergic to certain OTC pain relievers, such as NSAIDs. An allergic reaction can manifest as a rash, hives, and difficulty breathing.

Any person taking OTC pain relievers must follow the recommended dosage instructions on the packaging to avoid adverse health effects.

  1. Take Note Of The Precautions

OTC pain meds are a convenient and cost-effective way to manage mild to moderate pain. Still, there are special considerations to consider before taking these meds.

You must be cautious when giving them to children. For instance, the dosage must be calculated according to the child’s weight for acetaminophen. Also, any child under 12 mustn’t be given aspirin, as it heightens the risk of Reye’s syndrome.

Moreover, older people may be more sensitive to the ingredients in OTC pain relievers. Some NSAIDs can also increase the risk of bleeding and may interfere with blood pressure medications. Meanwhile, OTC pain relievers, such as aspirin, shouldn’t be used during pregnancy as they can increase the risk of bleeding and may affect fetal development.

Furthermore, individuals with certain existing health conditions or those currently on prescription medications should avoid OTC pain meds as there might be potential risks and side effects associated with specific painkillers. For instance, having a history of gastrointestinal issues can make you more sensitive to the effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). At the same time, acetaminophen may not be advisable for those with liver problems. Also, persons with liver or kidney disease may need to avoid certain OTC pain relievers or take them with caution under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Additionally, some medications, such as blood thinners or heart drugs, may negatively interact with certain OTC pain relievers, potentially leading to adverse reactions or diminished effectiveness. Hence, it’s always wise to consult your trusted before incorporating over-the-counter pain relievers into your regimen to ensure optimal safety and efficacy.

  1. Store Properly

Understanding how to store medications properly is of utmost importance to ensure their efficacy and safety. That said, OTC pain relievers should be kept in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. Exposure to heat, light, and moisture can cause the degradation of their active ingredients.

Meanwhile, keeping them out of reach of children and pets is essential, as accidental consumption can lead to serious health risks. Also, always check the expiration date and dispose of expired medications appropriately.


As much as OTC pain relievers can be bought without a prescription, you mustn’t abuse them. To ensure you take them effectively and safely, read the labels on these medications and adhere to the right timing and dosages. Regarding children, older people, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing medical issues, proceed cautiously. And in case of side effects, be sure to discontinue the usage and consult a doctor.



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