Ask the Pharmacist: OTC vs. Prescription Medicine

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There are a lot of allergy medications out there on the market, but there are some differences between the over-the-counter medications versus prescription medications. The biggest difference between over-the-counter allergy medications and prescriptions is the accessibility. You can walk in pretty much anywhere and get an over-the-counter medication, where as far as a prescription, you do have to have it written by your doctor.

Typically, you see over-the-counter medications treat general allergy things like hay fever, runny nose, that kind of thing. When you start getting into the prescription, you can get into some very specific allergens like this isn't just general population has it. It's a very specific one just for this particular case. And that's when you start seeing prescriptions for those.

As a pharmacist, I usually recommend over-the-counter allergy medications. You can use them probably three to six months out the year. And then after that, definitely consult your doctor and see if you need to follow up with them on that.

And it's the same with a prescription for allergy medications. If the doctor's writing for the prescription, you're going to follow up with them anyway. So that's just a general rule of thumb.

OTC medications tend to work pretty quick just because it's over the counter. You just can go buy it. You take it, and you start to see the effects right away. Some prescription allergy medications take a couple-- I'd say weeks to months to even you start noticing a difference for some particular allergies.

And I'm talking to a patient about OTC medication versus a prescription medication, it usually depends on the length of time they've been trying an over-the-counter allergy medication as to when I say they probably just need to check with a doctor. Because usually if they've been on it for a couple of weeks and they haven't noticed anything different, I usually recommend just go and follow up with a doctor to see if they can get you something else.