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Understanding Over-The-Counter Medicines
June 5, 2018
Over-the-counter medicines on shelf

What are OTCs?

Over-the-Counter (OTC) medicines (also known as ‘non-prescription’ medicines) can be bought without a prescription and used to prevent or treat a range of conditions. They are categorised into ‘General Sales List’ (GSL) and ‘Pharmacy’ (P) medications. Although ‘Pharmacy’ medications don’t need a prescription to get access to, they do require a pharmacist to dispense them.

OTC medicines are made up of different ingredients, which are put into two different categories:

  • Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs)
  • Inactive Excipients

The API is the key ingredient designed to influence the human body. The quantity of APIs in a medicine depends on the desired function of the drug. There can be several active ingredients in a medicine, however the excipients of the medicine often make up over 90% of the drug product. Although the excipients are called the ‘inactive’ ingredient in medicine, they often play a big role in making the APIs in medicine more efficient.

Did you know?

There can be many OTC medicines available to buy which treat the same condition. These medicines can often contain the same active ingredient, but are made up with different excipients.

Why is this useful to know?

You may have allergies, intolerances or have personal or religious dietary restrictions, which mean you avoid certain ingredients. These ingredients which may be affected by the APIs & excipients present in medicine you buy from over the counter. It’s helpful to know there may be other alternatives to medicine you are taking, which can also treat your condition.

Drug to drug interactions can also take place between OTC medicines and Prescription Only Medicine (POM). This means keeping track of what over-the-counter medicines you are on is important and you should let your GP or pharmacist aware that you are taking other medication.

Is this unsafe?

Although non-prescription (OTC) medicines are generally considered low-risk compared to POM’s, they can still be dangerous if taken in a larger dosage than recommended. Medsmart® allows you to set up medicine reminders to prevent you missing doses, or taking too much by accident.

What should I do?

Speak to your pharmacist if you haven’t already told them about any dietary restrictions, allergies or intolerances you have, when buying over the counter medicine. They may be able to offer you alternatives which better suit your needs, if you are currently taking a medicine which doesn’t match these.

How can Medsmart can help?

Medsmart® can help identify medicines which might interact with things you are allergic to or are unable to consume. To help you avoid certain ingredients, you can create an Allergy/Intolerance list in the app, which will keep a record of anything you don’t want to put in your body (e.g. Lactose, Gluten or peanuts).  

If you scan a medicine to your Medsmart® medicine cabinet which contains anything you’ve recorded to that you want to avoid, you’ll be alerted if a medicine contains this.

Storing OTC medicines in your Medsmart® medicine cabinet can also be helpful if you need to show your GP a list of any medications you’ve been taking. This can help them make the right decision about what medicines to prescribe you, which won’t interact with any OTC medicines you are taking.

How does Medsmart® do this?

Medsmart® produces curated information on the ingredients within over 20,000 UK medicines. This information can allow you to find out what different ingredients are contained in the medicines you’re taking and flag anything which might cause an interaction.

It’s important to always check the Patient Information Leaflet (PIL) before taking any medication. If you’re concerned about the ingredients of the medicine you’re taking or unsure of anything, please ask your pharmacist or local GP for advice. 

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