A Quick Guide to Common Ailments and Over-the-Counter Medications

A Quick Guide to Common Ailments and Over-the-Counter Medications

A Quick Guide to Common Ailments and Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are readily available without a prescription and can be a convenient way to manage common ailments. In this world where access to medical services may be interrupted or is priced so high it’s not often an option – OTC medications are frequently the first step towards relief. This quick guide provides information on some of the most frequent health issues for which people often seek OTC medications and offers recommendations. Remember, I’m not a physician although I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once. Always consult with a healthcare professional or pharmacist before starting any new medication.

The Common Cold or Flu

The common cold and the flu are viral infections that can cause similar symptoms. OTC medications can help alleviate these symptoms:

Nasal Congestion

  • Decongestant nasal sprays can provide temporary relief by shrinking swollen nasal passages. However, they should only be used for a few days as prolonged use can lead to rebound congestion.
  • Nasal strips can help open up the nasal passages and improve airflow, especially at night.


  • Cough suppressants can help alleviate coughing by reducing the urge to cough. Look for medications containing dextromethorphan (DM) as the active ingredient.
  • Expectorants can help thin and loosen mucus, making it easier to cough up. Look for medications containing guaifenesin as the active ingredient.

Sore Throat

  • Sore throat lozenges can provide temporary relief by numbing the throat. Look for medications containing benzocaine or menthol.
  • Saltwater gargles can also provide relief by reducing inflammation and killing bacteria.


Allergies occur when the immune system reacts to substances that are normally harmless. Common allergy symptoms include sneezing, itching, and watery eyes. OTC medications can help alleviate these symptoms:


  • Antihistamines can help relieve itching, sneezing, and runny nose caused by allergies. They come in two forms: sedating and non-sedating. Sedating antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can cause drowsiness, so they are best taken before bed. Non-sedating antihistamines like loratadine (Claritin) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) are less likely to cause drowsiness and can be taken during the day.

Nasal Sprays

  • Nasal sprays containing corticosteroids can help reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, relieving symptoms such as congestion and sneezing. They may take a few days to start working, so consistent use is important.

Eye Drops

  • Antihistamine eye drops can help relieve itchy and watery eyes. They can be used as needed for immediate relief. Look for medications containing ketotifen or naphazoline.


Headaches can have various causes, including tension, sinus congestion, or migraines. OTC medications can help provide relief:

Pain Relievers

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) can help relieve tension headaches and migraines by reducing inflammation and pain. Take as directed on the package.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can also help relieve headaches, but it does not reduce inflammation. Make sure to follow the recommended dosage instructions.


  • Caffeine can sometimes enhance the pain-relieving effects of headache medications. However, it can also trigger headaches in some people, so use with caution.

Heartburn and Indigestion

Heartburn and indigestion are common digestive problems that can cause discomfort. OTC medications can help provide relief:


  • Antacids can help neutralize stomach acid and provide immediate relief from heartburn. Look for medications containing calcium carbonate or aluminum hydroxide.

H2 Blockers

  • H2 blockers like ranitidine (Zantac) and famotidine (Pepcid) can help reduce the production of stomach acid, providing longer-lasting relief. They are best taken before a meal.

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

  • PPIs like omeprazole (Prilosec) and lansoprazole (Prevacid) can help reduce stomach acid production over a longer period, providing relief from frequent heartburn. They are usually taken daily for a couple of weeks.

My 2 Cents

OTC medications can be a convenient and affordable option for managing common ailments. However, it’s important to remember that they are not a substitute for medical advice, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are currently taking other medications. Always consult with a healthcare professional or pharmacist before starting any new medication. Additionally, it’s essential to follow the recommended dosage instructions and be aware of any potential side effects or interactions. OTC medications can provide relief, but it’s important to address the root cause of the problem whenever possible. And of course, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep can go a long way in preventing many common ailments. Stay well!