Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medicines

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Over-The-Counter Medicines

Navigating the Pharmacy Aisles

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications play an important part in our healthcare. They allow millions of Americans to treat their own common health problems with easily accessible, affordable, and effective medicines. But, choosing the right OTC medicine can be confusing. There are many choices, and in order to safely choose the right medicine, you must first know what you’re looking for and how to read an OTC medicine Drug Facts label.

Store shelves are usually arranged according to medicines that treat the symptoms of a certain illness or health problem. The table below lists the most common symptoms or conditions treated with OTC medicines, the category or type of the medicines used to treat these symptoms, along with examples of active ingredients to look for in the Drug Facts label. Always ask your pharmacist if you have questions about OTC medicines.

Symptoms or Conditions Category/Type of OTC Medicine (Purpose) Example(s) of
Active Ingredient(s)
Runny Nose, Itching of the Nose or Throat, Itchy, or Watery Eyes Due to Hay Fever or Other Upper Respiratory Allergies Antihistamine diphenhydramine
Heartburn or Indigestion Antacid or Acid Reducer famotidine
Hair Loss Hair Regrowth Treatment minoxidil
Fungal Infection (e.g., yeast infection, jock itch, ringworm, athlete’s foot) Anti-fungal clotrimazole
miconazole nitrate
Upset Stomach Associated with Nausea Upset Stomach Reliever (antinausea, also known as antiemetic) phosphorated carbohydrate solution
Vaginal Yeast Infection Vaginal Antifungal (also known as anti-candidial) clotrimazole
miconazole nitrate
Diarrhea Anti-diarrheal loperamide
Eye Care Contact Lens (cleaning) Peroxide-based Contact Lens Cleaning hydrogen peroxide 3%
Eye Care Contact Lens (hydrating) Saline-based Contact Lens Solution saline solution
Acne Vulgaris Acne benzoyl peroxide and sulfur, plus resorcinol, triclosan, or salicylic acid
Mucous or Phlegm in the Trachea or Lungs Cough Expectorant guaifenesin
Cough Cough Suppressant dextromethorphan (commonly found in combination products)
Nasal Stuffiness Decongestant phenylephrine
Diaper Rash Skin Protectant zinc oxide
Fatigue or Drowsiness Alertness Aid caffeine
Red Eyes Redness Reliever Eye Drops tetrahydrozoline naphazoline (commonly found in combination products)
Itchy Eyes Antihistamine Eye Drop Solution pheniramine maleate
Dry Eyes Eye Lubricant dextran 70
propylene glycol
Fever Fever Reducer acetaminophen
Constipation Laxative
Stool Softener
Hemorrhoids Protectant for Hemorrhoids
Vasoconstrictor (constricts blood vessels)
mineral oil, petrolatum, phenylephrine HCl
Minor Aches and Pains Analgesic or Pain Reliever acetaminophen
Menstrual Period Symptoms Pain Reliever
Menstrual Period Symptom Reliever
Ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen (pain reliever) used alone or in combination with: pamabrom or caffeine  (diuretic) or pyrilamine maleate (antihistamine)
Motion Sickness Antiemetic dimenhydrinate
Withdrawal Symptoms, Including Nicotine Craving, Associated with Quitting Smoking Stop Smoking Aid nicotine
Minor Aches and Pains for Muscle and Joints Topical Analgesic Topical Pain Reliever camphor, menthol, methyl salicylate
Itching Skin Topical Anti-itch or Topical Analgesic diphenhydramine
Occasional Sleeplessness or Difficulty Falling Asleep Nighttime Sleep-aid diphenhydramine
Toothache/Teething Pain Reliever benzocaine
Warts Wart Remover salicylic acid
Weight Loss Weight Loss Aid orlistat