Most Common Over-the-counter Drugs

Over-the-counter drugs are drugs that do not require a doctor’s prescription to be purchased. On the contrary, when selling prescription drugs, the pharmacist must make sure that the buyer has a valid prescription for the medication. In every country there is a regulatory agency that determines what drugs should be included in each category. For example, in the United States it is the responsibility of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and in Canada NAPRA (National Association of Pharmaceutical Regulatory Authorities) regulates the pharmaceutical market. In some countries, such as India, where the pharmaceutical market is actively developing in recent years, the sale of medicines is poorly regulated and it is sometimes possible to purchase strong-acting drugs without a prescription.

Why drugs are divided into categories?

Drugs from the OTC group should be safe enough for self-use. They are usually designed to treat mild illnesses that do not require doctor’s supervision, such as common cold, indigestion, etc. At the same time, drugs are regulated by their active agents. Among other conditions, OTC drugs should not contain precursors that can be used to produce illegal recreational drugs.

Thus, dividing all medication into prescription and OTC drugs allows to protect the population from causing harm to their health and also prevents drug abuse for the purpose of producing illegal substances. When certain drugs prove their safety and effectiveness over the years, they can be transferred from the prescription category to OTC. The reverse is more rare, although some medications that were considered safe may cause questions over time.

In some countries OTC drugs are divided into several categories as well. Some medications can be freely sold outside the pharmacies. They may be laid out on the store shelves, in the supermarkets, gas stations, etc. Other OTC drugs, although not requiring a prescription, should be sold only in the pharmacies and only handed out by a pharmacist. Detailed drug classification and how strict the rules are enforced varies from country to county.

Most popular OTC drugs

Mild illnesses such as common cold, acid reflux or upset stomach can be successfully threated with OTC drugs, many of which are affordable and widely available. Since popular OTC drugs often have cheaper generic versions, we listed the active ingredients first and added their marketing names in parentheses.

Cough and sore throat

Cough and sore throat can be caused by various reasons like catching a cold, having an allergic reaction, being exposed to dry or polluted air. To calm the irritated throat, use medications based on benzocaine (Chloraseptic). Benzocaine is produced as powder, pills, ointment and oily solution.

Dextromethorphan has been used throughout the world since the 1950s as a cough remedy, as it reduces cough reflex by acting on the brain function. The effect of this drug lasts for approximately 12 hours.


Omeprazole (known as Prilosec) is a modern drug used to treat people suffering from peptic ulcer and duodenal ulcer, as well as other diseases that are directly or indirectly associated with increased acidity of the gastric juice. Omeprazole has proven itself and has a reputation of a reliable and effective remedy.

Diarrhea and gas

Imodium is an antidiarrheal drug that helps to reduce fecal incontinence and the urge to defecate. It can be combined with simethicone to reduce the frequency of defecation. Simethicone (Gas-X) helps to cope with gas formation and flatulence.

Painkillers and antipyretic drugs

Ibuprofen (Advil) has antipyretic, analgesic and anti-inflammatory action. Due to this property the drug can be prescribed for pain of different origins. Ibuprofen is often used to eliminate the symptoms of flue and acute respiratory disease, i.e. pain, body aches, high fever. Ibuprofen relieves pain, reduces the inflammatory processes and swellings.

Cuts and burns

There are many popular remedies to treat cuts and burns, although some of them may be complicated and inconsistent, like pouring alcohol on your wound. To protect the wound from infection and moisturize the damaged skin, use antimicrobial ointments such as Vaseline.


Loratadine is one of the most popular antiallergic drugs in the world. Take it to reduce the intensity of allergic symptoms and alleviate the course of seasonal allergies. It does not cause drowsiness and is cheaper than its analogues.


Diphenhydramine (Simply Sleep) is an antihistamine drug with sedative properties. Originally aimed at treating allergic reactions, diphenhydramine is also used as a sleeping aid thanks to its side effect.

To sum up, many vital drugs can be purchased over-the-counter. Among them, most of the well-known branded products have cheaper analogs based on the same active agent. The cut on your drug expenses, explore online pharmacies that offer affordable generic drugs on the web. However, be sure to order from a reliable store to get quality medication and have a pleasant shopping experience.