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Pain Management Health Center

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Savvy Shopping Tips for OTC Medicines

What you need to know before going to the drugstore.

Tip 5: Know When -- and When Not -- to Self Diagnose

Self-diagnosis can be OK in the right circumstances, Tomaka says. “You can trust yourself if you know your symptoms or have had similar problems in the past and self-diagnosed and treated them successfully.” For instance, Tomaka says that if you have some vaginal itching and discharge and it was a warm summer day and you were wearing pantyhose, you can trust your own judgment and treat it with an OTC anti-yeast product. “There are also clues on product labeling,” he says, “that can help tell you if this product will treat your symptoms.”

However, you should see a doctor if you experience repeated episodes of similar symptoms that are not responding to the store-bought therapy. And it’s important to discuss any new symptoms with your doctor before trying to treat them on your own.

A Final Word About the Difference Between OTC and Prescription Versions of a Drug

Many drugs that you could once only buy with a prescription are now available without one. “The dose may have been cut,” says Calhoun, “to increase the safety.” For example, when ibuprofen was a prescription-only drug, it was sold in 400, 600, and 800 milligram doses. But as an OTC pain remedy, it is sold in 200 milligram doses. Some drugs, though, are exactly the same dosage over-the-counter as they were in prescription form. “This means,” Calhoun says, “that the FDA has determined the drug is safe and it is OK to make the choice to use it on your own.”

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Reviewed on July 08, 2009

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