Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to common questions about over-the-counter medicines, ingredients, safety, and more.

Find answers to common questions about over-the-counter medicines, ingredients, safety, and more.

What are dietary supplements?

Dietary supplements are a category of products that contain vitamins, minerals, herbal ingredients (such as ginger or elderberry), amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), enzymes (supports biochemical processes like food breakdown), and other ingredients. Dietary supplements come in various forms, including tablets, capsules, gummies, powders, and liquids as a way supplement the diet, but should not be considered a substitute for food.

It is important to note that dietary supplements are not medicines. Dietary supplement manufacturers are prohibited from claiming that their products can diagnose, cure, treat, or, with special exceptions, prevent disease. For instance, a dietary supplement cannot claim to “reduce arthritis pain” or “treat heart disease.” However, based on scientific evidence, manufacturers can say that their dietary supplement contributes to health maintenance, well-being, or supports a function of the body.

The U.S. Food and Drug Adminsitration (FDA) is responsible for regulating dietary supplement manufacturing, labeling, and safety. However, unlike drugs, FDA does not pre-approve dietary supplements for safety and efficacy before being sold. Learn more about dietary supplements

How do I dispose of unwanted over-the-counter (OTC) medicines?

Follow these simple steps from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to dispose of OTCs at home:

  • Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds.
  • Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag.
  • Throw the container in your household trash.

There are also a small number of medicines that can be safely flushed down your sink or toilet, which are highlighted in the FDA's Flush List. These are medicines that have the potential to be misused or abused and can result in death from one dose if inappropriately taken. Do not flush any medicine unless it is on the flush list and always follow disposal instructions that have been provided to you by a healthcare professional. Learn more about safe medicine disposal

Are expired over-the-counter (OTC) medicines safe?

Just like the dosing instructions and additional information on the label, the expiration date on the packaging is there for reason. Once a medicine has reached its expiration date, it may not provide the treatment that you need. To ensure the medicines you take are both safe and effective, keep an eye on the expiration dates and safely dispose of any expired or unwanted medicines.

How do I give medicines to my children safely?

When giving medicine to children, it is important to only use a product that treats your child’s specific symptoms. Do not give a medicine only intended for adults to a child. When possible, dose by your child’s weight following the instructions on the label. Always give the recommended dose and use the correct measuring device. And remember; keep all medicines and vitamins out of your child’s reach and sight. Ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions.

What over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are safe during pregnancy?

Pregnancy is an exciting time and a great chance to take charge of your health. For many women, when you are pregnant or nursing you are more likely to pay more attention than ever to what goes into your body and you know that not all medicines are safe to take while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Back pain and heartburn are two of the most common discomforts that come along with pregnancy, so be sure to discuss the products that can help you safely relieve those symptoms with your healthcare provider or pharmacist. The best thing you can do for your health and the health of your baby is to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any medicine when pregnant, breastfeeding, or when planning to become pregnant.

Your healthcare provider can provide the best information about whether an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine may be right for you, but always keep the following tips in mind:

  • Discuss taking any medicines during your pregnancy with your healthcare provider.
  • Do not take certain pain relievers during the last three months of your pregnancy, since they may cause problems in your unborn child or complications during delivery.
  • When breastfeeding, always ask your healthcare provider before taking any medication.
  • If your healthcare provider recommends you take medication while breastfeeding, time it so that you can take the medicine after nursing or before your baby’s longest nap.
What is a Drug Facts label?

The label for OTCs is called the Drug Facts label. This is the type of label using rule by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the back and often the sides of the OTC box or package. It presents important information for the safe and effective use of an OTC in the same format and order for every medicine. Every OTC Drug Facts label on store shelves has been approved by FDA.

What will happen if I don't follow the dosage on over the counter (OTC) medication?

OTC dosage directions are instructions that should be followed exactly, unless a healthcare provider specifically tells you otherwise. This means you should never take more of a medicine than the label says, or for a longer period of time than the medicine label says. While OTCs are safe and effective when taken according to the label, no medicine is without risk, including OTCs.

Always read and follow medicine labels to understand dosage strength and unique dosing directions for each OTC. Taking more than directed can lead to an overdose. Avoid taking multiple medicines that contain the same active ingredient, and never take a medicine for a longer period of time or in higher doses than the label recommends.

What kinds of medicine can I purchase over the counter?

OTCs can treat a wide variety of symptoms and ailments. Some OTCs provide temporary relief to pain, allergies, and minor cuts. Others treat recurring symptoms and conditions, like migraines or heartburn. Always match your symptoms to the OTC you are taking, and ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have any questions.

What is an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine?

Over-the-counter medicine is also known as OTC or nonprescription medicine. These terms refer to medicine that you can buy without a prescription.

OTC Pain Reliever Quiz

Answer a few questions to learn more about your personal risk factors and find out which over-the-counter pain relievers may be right for you.