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When do you need a prescription to buy over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medicines?

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You don’t need a prescription to buy OTC medicine. For the medications that you think of as prescription, you do.

Sometimes, the same drug comes in both OTC and prescription versions. The difference is often the strength. For example, hydrocortisone can treat skin reactions including itching and redness. If you're bothered by an insect bite, you can get an OTC cream or spray with a concentration of 1% or less. But for a more severe reaction like eczema, your doctor may prescribe 2.5% hydrocortisone cream or ointment.

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Allergy medications: Know your options."

ConsumerMedSafety.org: "Differences between prescription and OTC medicines."

FDA: "Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs: Questions and Answers."

National Eczema Association: "Hydrocortisone FAQ."

Medscape: "Allergic Rhinitis Medication."

MedlinePlus: "Montelukast."

"Using the Antihistamines to Treat: Allergies, Hay Fever, & Hives," Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, July 2013.

Gray, S.L. , published online March 2015. JAMA Internal Medicine

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "When to See an Allergist," "AAAAI Allergy & Asthma Medication Guide."

FamilyDoctor.org: "Antihistamines: Understanding Your OTC Options," "OTC Medicines: Know Your Risks and Reduce Them."

American Medical News: "Doctors pressured to write prescriptions for OTC drugs."

U.S. News & World Report: "What You Don't Know About Your Obamacare Coverage."

HealthyChildren.org: "Allergy Medicine for Children."

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson on July 20, 2018

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: "Allergy medications: Know your options."

ConsumerMedSafety.org: "Differences between prescription and OTC medicines."

FDA: "Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs: Questions and Answers."

National Eczema Association: "Hydrocortisone FAQ."

Medscape: "Allergic Rhinitis Medication."

MedlinePlus: "Montelukast."

"Using the Antihistamines to Treat: Allergies, Hay Fever, & Hives," Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, July 2013.

Gray, S.L. , published online March 2015. JAMA Internal Medicine

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "When to See an Allergist," "AAAAI Allergy & Asthma Medication Guide."

FamilyDoctor.org: "Antihistamines: Understanding Your OTC Options," "OTC Medicines: Know Your Risks and Reduce Them."

American Medical News: "Doctors pressured to write prescriptions for OTC drugs."

U.S. News & World Report: "What You Don't Know About Your Obamacare Coverage."

HealthyChildren.org: "Allergy Medicine for Children."

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson on July 20, 2018

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What is the difference between prescription and over-the-counter allergy medicines?

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