Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are used more frequently by Americans than ever before. In some ways, regular OTC use is second nature for many people. Conversely, NOT taking effective OTC medication is responsible for many unnecessary burdens, on both individual patients and the entire U.S. healthcare system. 90% of physicians agree that regular and responsible OTC use could ease some of the extra costs associated with added visits and medical attention.
Plus, doctors estimate that 1 out of every 10 patient office visits could be avoided altogether with an effective regimen of widely available – and affordable – OTC medicine.
UCE aims to educate and inform our patients, and we compiled some interesting statistics on OTC medication. OTC drugs are often misunderstood, and this blog post will help eliminate some of the myths and confusion surrounding over-the-counter medications.
What is OTC Medicine?
OTC medication is used for a variety of medical conditions, maladies, ailments and even to help spur recovery from injury or surgery. Unlike prescription medication, which requires direct physician and / or pharmacist approval, OTC drugs can be purchased “over the counter,” without a prescription.
OTC drugs are used to treat pretty much anything prescription medications are used for. From flu-like symptoms to general aches and pains, severe constipation to soaring cholesterol, over-the-counter drugs help consumers and patients stay healthy while also saving money. OTC drugs have been shown to offer similar (and sometimes superior) treatment to prescription drugs.
Most “name-brand” drugs have a “generic drug” equivalent. Generic drugs are often mistaken for over-the-counter medication, but they’re not the same thing. But they do serve a purpose; according to official U.S. Food and Drug Administration statistics, patients typically save anywhere from $8 to $10 billion annually at pharmacies, thanks to generic drugs.
Over the Counter and Under Budget – Some Advantages of OTC Medication
We’ve already discussed the practical medical benefits of OTC drugs. Now, let’s focus on the topic from a financial perspective. It’s hard to overestimate the positive impact OTC medication has on the entire U.S. healthcare marketplace.
The average U.S. household spends nearly $350 per year on OTC drugs. According to an extensive study from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, patients are nine times likelier to take an OTC medication than visit their primary care physician. All those visits and decisions to opt for over-the-counter drugs pay off, literally and figuratively. From a financial standpoint, widespread OTC use saves the entire U.S. healthcare system more than $100 billion every year.
Those significant savings are made possible by two factors: OTC drugs are cheaper (although just as effective) to manufacture than new prescription medication, and they also help prevent countless diagnostic testing, office visits, co-pay costs and more.
Add it all up, and it’s clear: OTC medications are a smart option for patients looking to streamline symptom treatment while saving money in the long run!
Top 10 OTC Medications in the United States
Nowadays, you can find an OTC medication for a variety of sicknesses, symptoms and more. Here are the top 10 most popular over-the-counter medicines sold in the United States:
Used to combat indigestion and sour stomach, Pepto-Bismol is considered the “magical pink elixir” due to its fast-acting effects. Darker than usual stool has been reported, but usually wears off after a few doses.
A popular stool softener, Colace is one of the most widely-sold constipation medications. Watch out for cramps and bowel irritation, though.
This OTC supplement is designed to help support healthy gut bacteria. When first used, it can cause stomach discomfort, so pay attention to this common side effect.
No-Doz has highly concentrated amounts of caffeine to help get over the afternoon slump, especially when you haven’t been getting enough rest. Sweating and anxiety are commonly reported side effects. Be sure to read the warning label on this popular OTC medication. People with certain medical conditions (heart problems, liver disease, etc.) should not take No-Doz.
The most popular pain relief OTC medication, Advil has been a medicine cabinet staple for years. Upset stomach, dizziness and bloating are experienced by some Advil users, but they’re not that common.
After Advil, this OTC pain relief medication is the most popular pill for headaches, backaches, toothaches and other general discomfort. Aleve has similar side effects as Advil.
Doctor prescribed migraine medication can be costly, so many migraine sufferers opt for Excedrin Migraine, which has concentrated caffeine to supplement its pain relief properties. Some people who take EM have reported sweating and increased anxiety, no doubt due to the heavy caffeine concentration.
Need relief from allergies? Try this popular OTC medication. Zyrtec has been a top 10 OTC medicine for years, as it efficiently treats runny nose, watery eyes and other allergy symptoms. However, common side effects include blurred vision, short-term memory loss and headaches.
The most recommended children’s cold and cough medicine is also one of the most popular. Just be on the lookout for some abnormal reactions, including dizziness, vomiting, drowsiness and anxiety.
More doctors suggest Afrin than any other OTC decongestant nasal spray, putting this popular over-the-counter medicine firmly inside the top 10. Blurred vision, trembling, insomnia and even high blood pressure can offset the spray’s effectiveness, though. Like every other top 10 OTC medication, always read the warning label first!
A Quick Word on Side Effects
Some OTC drugs can cause side effects, so it’s always a good idea to consult with your physician before taking a new medication. The Consumer Healthcare Products Association has done extensive research on safe, optimal OTC use. There are some things you can do (and not do) to reduce your chance of adverse reactions. Here are just a few:
- ALWAYS consult with your doctor before taking a new OTC medication or a different dosage of an existing drug.
- Only use OTC drugs if absolutely necessary.
- Never take an OTC drug if you’re not 100% positive about how to take the drug, what side effects are possible and other important information – bottom line: ask your pharmacist or doctor if you’re unsure about anything.
- Let your pharmacist or doctor know about your existing prescription medications.
- Follow the label. There are plenty of good reasons your OTC medication has specific requirements on the label. Never take less or more medication than is recommended. The FDA has an excellent guide on OTC labels here.
- Alcohol and OTC medication – any medication, for that matter – don’t mix. It’s best to take pill OTC drugs with a glass of water.
- Keep an eye on those active ingredients. For example, if you’re taking a prescription medication and have also started taking an OTC medicine, compare the active ingredients. Even if the medications are used to treat different conditions or symptoms, many active ingredients have multi-purpose use.
- Use extra caution when administering OTC drugs to children.
- “Stagger” your vitamin and OTC ingestion. For example, if you take a daily Vitamin C and magnesium supplement, wait a few hours before or after taking your OTC drugs.
Urgent Care + Over the Counter Medication: The UCE Advantage
Urgent Care Extra recently launched an over-the-counter medication program, and it has become an integral part of our mission to give area residents the best possible healthcare, for immediate needs and long-term “maintenance” care.
Convenience is important to busy individuals and families, and that’s why many of our patients use Urgent Care Extra for all of their OTC requirements. Instead of extra trips to your pharmacist or drug store, UCE has everything you’re looking for, all in one central location.
We offer OTC medication for pain and nausea, abdominal discomfort, allergies, coughs and colds and eye drops – in fact, many of the top 10 OTC drugs are available at Urgent Care Extra. Our OTC drugs aren’t just affordable; they’re also effective in treating some commonplace symptoms and conditions as well as (or in some cases, better than) expensive prescription medications.
UCE’s “total patient care” philosophy is illustrated by our OTC medication program. And it’s just one piece of the entire Urgent Care Extra suite of services, designed to treat you and your family with rapid, responsive and reliable care.
Our Arizona area walk-in healthcare clinics are ready to help you today. Stop by or call our main office at (480) 988-9108. From OTC medication to patient-first urgent care, we’re the #1 healthcare option throughout the state. Visit us today and experience the UCE difference!