Skip to content
This content is selected and controlled by WebMD's editorial staff and is brought to you by Walgreens.

How to Avoid Problems with OTC Pain Relievers continued...

Use them as briefly as possible. “Over-the-counter pain relievers should only be used for the temporary relief of acute pain,” Krenzelok tells WebMD. If your pain lasts longer than 10 days, "it could be an indication of a more serious problem, and you should see your doctor for advice,” he says. Never take more than the recommended dose or take pain relievers for longer than recommended.

Know when to talk to your doctor about taking them. “If you have health problems, or take a lot of other medications, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor about how and when to use these products,” Ashar says. Tell your doctor about any OTC products or supplements you use. And if you are given a new prescription medication, ask whether it is safe to also take OTC pain relievers.

Compare OTC Pain Relievers

Still not sure the differences between OTC pain relievers? Use these charts to compare some side effects and possible complications at a glance.  

Acetaminophen

This medicine relieves mild to moderate pain from muscle aches, headaches, colds, sore throats, backaches, arthritis, toothaches, and menstrual periods. It also helps reduce fever. 

 

OTC Brand Names (not a complete list) Possible Complications Precautions

Tylenol

 

Excedrin Tension Headache

OTC Combination products include:

Products for cold and flu symptoms 

Overdosing can cause liver damage and can lead to liver failure and even death. You should stop taking this drug and call your doctor or poison control immediately  if you suspect you have overdosed.  

Signs and symptoms of overdose may not be immediately noticeable but can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Upset stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating

These symptoms may not appear until 12 to 24 hours after taking the medicine.

Serious  allergic reactions are also possible; call 911 if you have:

  • reddening of the skin, rash, blisters
  • hives
  • Facial swelling
  • Asthma/ wheezing

 

Do not use with any other drug that contains acetaminophen.

Talk with your doctor before taking this medication if you:

  • drink more than three alcoholic drinks per day
  • take a blood-thinning drug called warfarin (Coumadin)
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • liver disease

Check with your doctor or pharmacist about drug interactions with other medications or supplements you are taking.

Choosing an OTC Pain Reliever

What you need to know to make a safe and effective choice.
View slideshow

Pain Relief Poll

What usually has you reaching for an OTC pain reliever?

View Results