What You Should Know About Over-the-Counter Pain Medications

January 2024

Many people use over-the-counter (OTC) medications for pain relief from time to time. These include medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen-sodium, and aspirin. While these medications can be helpful, be sure to follow these tips for using them safely.

Choose the medication that’s right for you. Your pharmacist can help you decide which OTC drug to take for your health issue and health history and check whether these drugs might interact with other medications you take.

Follow label directions carefully. Don’t take more than the dose recommended for your age. If you’ll be taking more than one dose, don’t take them any closer together than the packaging advises.

Read the label to know which active ingredients an OTC medication contains. Some OTC medications contain a blend of ingredients, like a decongestant and a pain reliever in a cold medication. Taking too much of the same active ingredient can cause serious side effects.

Never give aspirin or any medication containing aspirin to children or teenagers with a fever or other viral illness. The use of aspirin when a child has viral illnesses such as the flu, COVID-19, or chickenpox can cause a serious and sometimes fatal condition called Reye’s Syndrome.

Don’t take OTC pain relievers before a COVID-19 vaccine. Some people want to take these medications proactively to prevent vaccine side effects. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against it because researchers aren’t sure if these medications can affect how well the vaccine works. If you do experience vaccine side effects, like a headache or fever, it’s okay to take OTC pain meds to relieve symptoms.

More Medication Adherence & Safety Articles