Over the Counter (OTC) Drugs and Self-medication

You have most probably heard the term “Over the counter drugs (OTC’s)”, and if not, let us tell you about it.

Over the counter drugs are medicines readily available and any pharmacist can sell these to the customer without any written prescription from a doctor. These include the common medicines used for flu, cough or pain killers. These medicines can also be available to shops and stores other than pharmacies.

These medicines seem harmless and in fact considered to be helpful in reliving the sickness. Indeed, they are safe until you follow the directions printed on the medicine and pamphlets available with the medication. However, they can also be harmful if used not as doctors suggested or the consumer does not follow the directions given for the medicine. Over the counter drugs are the most abused medicines.

People often take these medicines without consulting a doctor and this is called as self-medication. As people take medicines their own, they can even take the wrong dosage and with not proper time intervals, this may result in some complications.

For example, if someone is taking medicine for pain in abdomen/tummy and not consulting a doctor, he/she may increase the dosage if not get relief from pain after the same amount taken for the first time. Maybe the pain is indicative for liver or pancreas issue or ulcer of stomach. After taking high dosage the medicine is abused but the person did not get any relief from the pain. This way the main disease/sickness will increase as well as consuming wrong medicine can cause more problems.

Increase of dosage is an indication of tolerance. Tolerance is developed in the body and the same amount of medicine/drug does not provide the desired effect and more and more of the dosage is required to get the same desired effect which a person experienced on first use. This may cause physical dependence too.

Some over the counter drugs have side effects if taken in large amounts. For example, some medicines used for the treatment of cough and flu can cause hallucinations if taken in high dosage. Multi-vitamins can also cause problems in the body especially in liver if taken without a physician’s advice.

A research, “Prevalence and Pattern of Self-medication in Karachi : A Community Survey”, published in Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences in 2015 showed that the prevalence of self-medication in males is 88.4% and in females is 81.2%. These medications which were taken without doctor’s consultation were mostly for headache, fever and pain.

Self-medication is not only common in Pakistan but it is a general practice around the world. Globally, 25-75 % of people use OTC drugs when fell ill after consulting a friend, family member, and neighbor or as a result from searches available on the internet.


Most common OTC drugs/medicines in Pakistan which are mostly consumed as self-medication are:

  • Ibuprofen

Use: Pain killer

Brand Name: Advil/Mortin/Brufen

Generic Name: Isobutylphenylpropionic Acid

  • Paracetamol

Use: Fever and pain

Brand Name: Dymadon/Panadol/Calpol/Disprol

Generic name: Acetaminophen

  • Aspirin

Use: Pain/fever/heart attack/stroke

Brand Name: Aspro Clear/Disprin/Asprin

Generic name: acetylsalicylic acid

  • Imodium

Use: Diarrhea

Brand Name: Emod/Loperam/Lopamide/Imodium

Generic Name: loperamide hydrochloride

  • Zyrtec

Use: Sneezing/runny nose/allergy

Brand Name: Zyrtec Allergy/Zyrtec children/Aller-Tec

Generic Name: Cetirizine hydrochloride

  • Benadryl

Use: Allergy /Itching/Cold/fever

Brand Name: Genahist/Sominex/Unisom

Generic Name: Diphenhydramine

  • Buscopan

Use: Relieve pain in lower abdomen

Brand Name: Buscopan

Generic Name: Hyoscine butylbromide

  • Ear drops

Use: Infection and inflammation of external ear

Brand name: Otosporin Ear Drops

Generic Name: Al-Boric,Acet Acids

  • Nasal Spray

Use: Nasal congestion/Allergy/Sinusitis

Brand name: Xynosine Nasal Spray

Generic name: Xylometazoline

  • Multivitamin tablets

Use: Vitamin deficiency

Brand Name: Surbex Z/Surbex T/Vital/Glit-Vit/Centrum

  • Gravinate

Use: Nausea and Vomiting

Brand Name: Gravinate

Generic Name: Dimenhydrinate

  • Calcium tablets

Use: Calcium deficiency

Brand name: CaC 1000 plus/CalciPlus/Calcium 6000/C/hewCal/QalSium-D

This is not a complete list but is a common list of OTC Drugs which are commonly used without physician’s advice. They also have side effects, which might be fatal. Overdose of OTC Drugs can also be life threatening. If you take more than one medicine without doctor’s consultation, there chemical properties may interfere with each other and can cause fatal, life threatening conditions.

Precaution is better than cure. Always consult a Medical professional for any kind of medical issue, whether it is minor or major. Self-medication is harmful. Take care of yourself and your loved ones. This article is written for awareness purpose.

If you know anyone suffering from drug abuse, addiction or substance use disorder, refer them to Best Rehabilitation center or consult at 0341-1959599.

Scroll to Top