How Long You Can Use Over-The-Counter Medicine Without Consulting A Doctor


Over-the-counter drugs come in useful for a lot of short-term well being woes, from allergic reactions and complications to minor accidents. And should you’ve been turning to OTC choices because the pandemic began as a substitute of going to the physician, you’re not alone.

“Many of my patients haven’t seen their primary care physician or even certain specialists in almost two years,” stated Ken Perry, an emergency doctor primarily based in Charleston, South Carolina. “It’s not uncommon for patients to make their way to the pharmacy to try to fix their ailments on their own, and COVID has further exacerbated this issue.”

For many individuals, it’s applicable and secure to search out an OTC remedy to assist alleviate their signs at house with out a lot concern for hurt, Perry stated. But should you take sure OTCs long-term and don’t replace your physician or pharmacist about what you’re doing, issues can get dicey.

Say you’re taking an over-the-counter NSAID ― a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug ― for ache reduction, and also you don’t disclose this to your physician. If you go to your physician’s office with ache that they diagnose as arthritis or another irritation, they might provide you with an NSAID or equal prescription to take.

“If that patient takes both medications, they can possibly cause GI bleeding or even kidney damage,” Perry stated.

If you’re on prescription drugs, taking sure OTCs in tandem can scale back their efficacy and will trigger adversarial results.

“Your age can also impact how your body will react to an OTC medicine,” stated Janice Johnston, co-founder and chief medical officer of the U.S. well being care plan Redirect Health. “By keeping your doctor up-to-date about your OTC usage, they’ll be able to give their expert opinion on the best — and safest — course of action for your overall well-being.”

Plus, the persistent signs you’re masking with OTC drugs may very well be an indication of an underlying situation that your physician may help you nail down and deal with.

Each OTC drugs has really useful dosages, and details about when to tell your physician, printed proper on the label — however listed here are some normal tips on frequent OTCs to get you began:


Acetaminophen is a standard OTC remedy finest recognized for relieving ache and lowering fever.

“It’s generally safe when taken as directed for up to 10 days,” Johnston stated. “However, you should check with your health care provider if you have any medical conditions or are on any medications where acetaminophen should be avoided.” (Think: if in case you have liver illness or are taking warfarin, a blood thinner.)

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are over 600 OTC and prescription medicines that contain acetaminophen. It’s essential to learn remedy labels fastidiously to be sure to don’t exceed the utmost every day dose, as this could trigger liver harm — particularly if mixed with alcohol. (When a prescription drugs comprises acetaminophen, the drug label may not spell out your entire phrase. It may additionally use the abbreviation “APAP.”)

Most wholesome individuals can take acetaminophen safely by not utilizing multiple drugs containing acetaminophen in a day and following the instructions on the drugs label.

“Contact your primary care provider if your symptoms get worse or new symptoms appear for more than three days,” stated Jessica Nouhavandi, co-founder and lead pharmacist of the net pharmacy Honeybee Health.


Aspirin is used for short-term reduction of complications, ache, swelling or fever, and in every day low doses for prevention of coronary heart assault and clot-related strokes.

It’s typically secure to take as directed for as much as three days for fever, or as much as 10 days for ache. “If you wish to use aspirin daily for chronic pain, make sure to connect with your physician first,” stated Siddharth Tambar, a board-certified rheumatologist with Chicago Arthritis and Regenerative Medicine.

The identical applies if you wish to take aspirin for coronary heart assault prevention, since there are many health factors that must be thought of. For people who find themselves at low threat for coronary heart assault, for instance, the advantages of every day aspirin remedy don’t outweigh the long-term toxicity dangers that aspirin can have on the gastrointestinal tract (like abdomen ulcers or inside bleeding).

“The daily consumption of aspirin can also cause easy bruising and dangerous acid-base imbalances in your blood,” stated Spencer Kroll, a board-certified inside drugs specialist and pharmacologist primarily based in New Jersey. This can severely affect vital organs, akin to your lungs and kidneys.

Aspirin is now really useful as a continual remedy just for individuals with established coronary heart illness or who’re very high-risk, and it ought to solely be taken underneath the supervision of your physician, in response to the Mayo Clinic.

Grace Cary by way of Getty Images

Pain relievers should not be used for an prolonged period of time with out checking in with a doctor.


NSAIDs, akin to ibuprofen and naproxen, are additionally taken for momentary ache reduction and may lower irritation, akin to fever, swelling and redness.

When taken as directed and for a brief time frame (as much as three days for fever and 10 days for ache), NSAIDs are secure for most individuals. If you are taking them for longer than that, it’s essential to seek the advice of together with your physician for additional instruction, Tambar stated.

Long-term use can enhance your threat of coronary heart assault, stroke and hypertension, whether or not you’ve gotten coronary heart illness or not, in response to the Mayo Clinicwhich is why it’s so essential your physician has your NSAID use on their radar.

“You should also check with your doctor before taking NSAIDs if you have preexisting conditions or are taking other prescription medications,” Johnston stated. They have the potential to trigger gastrointestinal bleeding, particularly in individuals who’ve had abdomen ulcers or bleeding issues earlier than.

NSAIDs aren’t really useful for people who find themselves planning to get pregnant or have at the moment been pregnant for 20 weeks or longer, as a result of these drugs could cause hurt to the unborn child, Nouhavandi stated.


Antihistamines are typically used for short-term reduction of allergy signs (say, seasonal allergic reactions). They’re damaged down into two classes — first- and second-generation.

First-gens cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger drowsiness, whereas second-gens work together with fewer medicine and are a lot much less more likely to trigger drowsiness, in response to the Cleveland Clinic.

“Many allergy medications are safe for everyday use and often treat symptoms better when used daily,” Johnston stated. For in any other case wholesome individuals with year-round allergic reactions, second-generation antihistamines (like Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec) keep their effectiveness even when taken every day, and so they don’t trigger drowsiness.

If you’ve gotten a continual medical situation, akin to diabetes, glaucoma or hypertension, you need to speak to your supplier earlier than taking antihistamines to verify there aren’t any contraindications. (The identical goes should you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.)

Acid reducers

Antacids supply fast reduction from heartburn, acid indigestion and upset abdomen.

They’re typically secure for long-term use when used as directed, nevertheless it’s really useful to verify in together with your physician if it’s important to pop antacids more than twice a week or your signs aren’t relieved after two weeks of use.

“Antacids are extremely effective at reducing stomach acid — so much so, the reduction of pain that comes from the reduction of acid could mask underlying health conditions, such as peptic ulcer disease or even stomach cancer,” Kroll stated.

Another motive it’s essential to seek the advice of together with your physician about your antacid use is the opportunity of drug-to-drug interactions, Nouhavandi stated. Because antacids can change the way in which your physique absorbs different medicines you’re taking, it’s finest to take your different meds both one hour before or four hours after you are taking antacids.

People who’re pregnant ought to seek the advice of with their physician earlier than utilizing antacids to verify they’re making the most secure selection, Nouhavandi stated. Antacids that include aspirin can increase the risk of various complications, whereas antacids containing sodium can cause fluid buildup.

Ongoing use of antacids that include sodium may also result in kidney problems if a low-sodium eating regimen isn’t applied, Nouhavandi added.

Anti-nausea remedy

OTC anti-nausea drugs will be very efficient in managing an upset abdomen, particularly should you expertise movement illness or vertigo.

“Common OTC anti-nausea medications include Pepto Bismol and Dramamine,” Johnston stated. “Each one manages symptoms in its own unique way, whether through reducing the amount of acid in the stomach or through blocking the receptors in the brain that cause nausea.”

The sort of remedy will decide how lengthy you possibly can safely take it (not more than two days for Pepto Bismol, for example, whereas Dramamine Non-Drowsy is secure to take day-after-day you journey), but when your signs persist, you need to verify in together with your physician.

“By continuing to take OTC anti-nausea medications, you put yourself at risk of experiencing side effects, including drowsiness, headaches, insomnia and more,” Johnston stated. Plus, you would be masking a well being situation that must be handled.

Anti-gas remedy

“OTC anti-gas medications are often made with simethicone, which works by enabling the gas bubbles within the intestines to come together, therefore making it easier for your body to expel the gas,” Johnston stated.

Generally, they’re secure even when taken every day, as long as the right dosage is being adopted.

“But if you’re experiencing ongoing discomfort due to gas buildup, it’s important to reach out to your medical provider for help,” Johnston stated ― particularly if the fuel you’re experiencing is persistent or severe and accompanied by different signs, akin to vomiting, diarrhea or unintentional weight reduction. It may very well be an indication of a extra critical difficulty, akin to diabetes or gastroparesis.

A temporary chat together with your physician may help you provide you with a stable well being plan.

Anti-diarrheal remedy

OTC diarrhea drugs can supply fast reduction by stopping or slowing down free stool within the intestines. “It’s important to note that diarrhea medications often won’t treat the underlying cause of diarrhea, and are simply meant to provide short-term relief,” Johnston stated.

Read the label fastidiously and observe the really useful dosage. If the diarrhea is brought on by micro organism or a virus, it ought to resolve itself inside a few days. “If it persists longer than that, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional,” Johnston stated.

If you’re on prescription meds (akin to blood thinners, or remedy for arthritis, diabetes or gout), verify in together with your physician earlier than taking an anti-diarrheal, as it could affect the efficacy of your drugs, in response to the American Academy of Family Physicians.


Laxatives will be an effective way to beat constipation. “There are various ways different laxatives work within the body,” Johnston stated.

Some add bulk to melt the stool and stimulate the intestinal muscle groups to naturally contract. Others intention to extend contractions inside the intestines to maneuver issues alongside.

Bulk-forming laxatives are generally safe for ongoing use to advertise digestive regularity, and will be particularly useful to individuals with situations like irritable bowel syndrome or hemorrhoids. However, they will trigger uncomfortable side effects like bloating, fuel or cramps, particularly should you don’t drink sufficient water, so ensure to observe the instructions on the label intently.

Stimulants, however, ought to solely be used if completely essential — for no longer than one week — and solely underneath the supervision of a doctor.

Laxatives might intervene together with your physique’s absorption of sure drugs and vitamins and may result in an electrolyte imbalance, particularly after extended use, in response to the Mayo Clinic. Your physique may also develop into too dependent on laxatives, which might trigger your colon to cease functioning correctly.

“Your doctor should be alerted of any sudden change in your bowel habits that are present for more than a few weeks,” Kroll stated. “This could indicate many different disease processes.”

Sleep aids

“OTC sleep medications can help individuals struggling with acute insomnia or jet lag fall asleep faster, often through binding to specific receptors in the brain that cause drowsiness,” Johnston stated.

However, these sleep aids aren’t meant for long-term use. Tolerance to the sedative results can develop rapidly, so the longer you are taking them, the much less probably they’re to make you sleepy.

“When used long-term, people can become reliant on — and even addicted to — sleep aids,” Johnston stated. To high it off, they will trigger daytime drowsiness, in addition to points with focus and reminiscence.

It’s typically really useful that OTC sleep aids not be used any longer than two weeks, in response to the Mayo Clinic. You must also verify in together with your physician or pharmacist to verify the sleep support you select doesn’t mess with any drugs you’re on.

Vitamin dietary supplements

For most individuals, a nutritious diet ought to present enough nutritional vitamins for good well being. “There may be reasons to use a quality daily multivitamin that has the recommended daily allowance (such as being vegetarian or vegan), which are generally safe to use for most people,” Johnston stated.

But it’s essential to seek the advice of together with your well being care supplier on the use and correct dosage of particular person vitamin dietary supplements, like vitamin D or vitamin A. At too excessive a dose, they might trigger uncomfortable side effects or intervene with drugs. (“Vitamins E and K can also increase risk of bleeding if you’re taking blood thinners,” Johnston stated.)

“Timing is critical for some vitamins, in that they can interfere with the absorption of some medications if taken at the same time,” Kroll stated. Your physician may help ensure the efficacy of each your drugs and your nutritional vitamins are maximized.

The finest approach to know should you want a vitamin complement, Nouhavandi stated, is to get your bloodwork carried out to search out out if supplementation is suitable for you. Your physician can then suggest correct dosages and hold tabs on any deficiencies you may need.