Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Pain Management Health Center

Font Size

Savvy Shopping Tips for OTC Medicines

What you need to know before going to the drugstore.
WebMD Feature

Overuse of acetaminophen, a common over-the-counter (OTC) painkiller, can result in liver failure and even death. Because of this, the FDA is considering recommendations to place new restrictions on the drug. But this is only the latest in a long string of stories that call the safety of various OTC pain relievers, allergy medicines, and other drugs into question.

How can you be sure that what you are taking is safe or even effective? What’s more, how can you know for sure if the generic you buy is the same medicine as the brand-name drug? And how do all those formerly prescription drugs that are now available without a prescription fit in? With all these concerns and choices, a trip to the local drugstore can be overwhelming.

Recommended Related to Pain Management

Give DMARDs Time

Most people start a disease modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD), such as methotrexate, soon after RA diagnosis. If you're still adjusting to a DMARD or want to better understand how it slows joint damage, take a few days to learn more. Conditions: Rheumatoid arthritis Symptoms: loss of appetite, fatigue, feeling sick, symptoms worse in A.M., weakness, fever, lumps under skin, reduced joint movement, stiffness, stiffness after rest, anxiety, depression, deformed joint, stiff joint, swo...

Read the Give DMARDs Time article > >

“The key,” says Norman Tomaka, a certified consultant pharmacist, in Melbourne, Fla., “is to know what you want and need before you go into the store.” Tomaka is also a spokesman for the American Pharmacists Association. “When you’re walking along the medicine aisle is no time to window shop or impulse buy.”

WebMD has assembled a list of shopping tips you can use to make smart, safe choices when you buy over-the-counter medicines.

Tip 1: Read the Medicine's Label -- Carefully

“Reading the label on an over-the-counter drug is the single most important thing,” says Tomaka. The FDA mandates that each OTC drug label must clearly list the active ingredient and the amount of the active ingredient. Labels also need to state what the medicine’s intended use is. “Educate yourself,” Tomaka says, “even if you can’t pronounce the active ingredient’s name. Look at the drug ingredient and look at the indications to find out what it is used for.”

The information on the label can also help you decide between a generic and a brand-name OTC drug product. If you are considering saving money by buying a generic drug, Tomaka says, compare the active ingredient and amounts in the generic vs. the brand name OTC product. “For example, if you are purchasing an antihistamine, read the ingredient and amount. If the store brand or generic brand is identical to the trade brand, it will likely have the same effects on your symptoms.”

If you have known allergies, you should read the inactive ingredients in any over-the-counter drug. “Inactive ingredients,” Tomaka says, “must also be prominently labeled. If you don’t have any allergies to the inactive ingredients, it is likely safe to choose the drug.”

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

pain in brain and nerves
Top causes and how to find relief.
knee exercise
8 exercises for less knee pain.
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
illustration of nerves in hand
lumbar spine
Woman opening window
Man holding handful of pills
Woman shopping for vegetables
Sore feet with high heel shoes
acupuncture needles in woman's back
man with a migraine