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Side Effects of Popular Over-the-Counter Medicines

Updated on May 22, 2019
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Srikanth is passionate about helping people find health and happiness naturally.

Common OTC Drugs and Their Side Effects

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are those medicines that can be bought from a pharmacy without a prescription from a healthcare professional. Even though medical professionals advise against self-medication, many people, all over the world, buy OTC drugs to deal with common problems like cold, flu, acidity, body pain, head ache, etc.

Most of the OTC drugs are manufactured by popular brands like GlaxoSmithKline. Here is a brief overview of some OTC drugs, with their possible side effects.

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Advil is a brand of ibuprofen. It is used to treat fever, sprains, menstrual cramps and pain in the joints (due to osteoarthritis). It lasts for around 5 hours. Advil is known to cause side effects like stomach pain, constipation, gas, heartburn, bloating and dizziness.

Prolonged Use of Advil Can Damage the Liver

Prolonged use of Advil can cause high blood pressure, kidney problems, ulcers and liver damage. People affected by kidney problems, hypertension, heart problems, ulcers, bleeding problems or diabetes it is advisable to consult your physician before using this medicine. Advil should not be taken with milk.

Natural Alternatives to Advil

Natural Alternatives to Advil
Peppermint essential oil
Lavender essential oil

Bengay (Generic)

Bengay provides temporary relief from minor aches and pain of muscles and joints associated with simple backache, arthritis, strains, bruises and sprains. It works by causing the skin to feel cool and then warm. These feelings on the skin distract you from feeling the aches and pains deeper in your muscles, joints, and tendons.

Redness, warmth, stinging, or burning on the place where it is applied are some known side effects of this medicine. Unlikely but serious side effects include blistering/swelling/severe redness at the application site, increased/unusual pain at the application site, nausea/vomiting, ringing in the ears.

Natural Alternatives to Bengay

Natural Alternatives to Bengay
Turmeric and ginger tea
Apple cider vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Epsom salt


While OTC pain medicine is generally safe and effective, consumers should understand the different varieties available, how they work and possible side effects.

— Dr. Lisa Gallagher, a family medicine doctor with Tower Health Medical Group


Zantac is a brand of ranitidine. This medicine is used to prevent and treat ulcers in the intestines and stomach. It is a histamine 2 blocker. It works by reducing the amount of acid in the stomach.

Swelling of the lips, hives, swelling of the tongue, breathing difficulties, swelling of the face, swelling of the throat, chest pain, fever, coughing up green mucous, coughing up yellow mucous, weakness, fast heart rate, slow heart rate, sore throat, head ache, rashes and dizziness are some possible side effects of Zantac.

Zantac use is known to increase the risk of pneumonia. People allergic to ranitidine should not use this medicine. People affected by kidney disease, porphyria or liver disease should consult a doctor before using Zantac.


Natural Alternatives to Zantac

Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
Aloe juice
Ginger root


Micatin is a brand of miconazole. It is an antifungal medicine used to treat various skin infections caused by fungus and yeast. Micatin is found to be effective against athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, colored patches on the skin and various yeast infections of the skin and the mucous membrane.

Micatin kills the overgrowth of fungus and yeast that cause infections. Even though the medicine begins work within a few days of starting treatment, the duration of the treatment is usually two to four weeks. It is available in the form of cream and spary.

Micatin May Cause Itching

Burning, itching, irritation, blistering, hives and peeling are some possible side effects of Micatin. This medicine is for external use only. It is not advisable to use this medicine during pregnancy.

Natural Alternatives to Micatin

Coconut oil
Lemongrass oil


Tylenol is a brand of Acetaminophen. It is used to treat pain and fever. It usually lasts around 5 hours. It is found to be effective against minor aches and sprains. Tylenol can cause liver damage if more than eight extra-strength pills are taken in two days (or more than seven drinks in a week).

People who consume alcohol regularly and people affected by liver related medical conditions should consult their doctor before using this medicine. Many medicines contain acetaminophen. It is advisable to check the contents of your medicine to ensure that you are not taking too much of this drug at once.

Natural Alternatives to Tylenol



Immodium is a brand of loperamide. It is used to treat and control diarrhea. It is also used to reduce the amount of stool in people who have ileostomy. It slows the rhythm of digestion, thereby enabling the small intestine to absorb nutrients from the food you would have consumed.

Stomach pain, bloating, severs skin reaction, fever, sore throat, swelling in the face, burning in the eyes, dizziness, drowsiness, tiredness and constipation are possible side effects of immodium.

People with bloody, black or tarry stool should not use immodium. You should not use this medicine if the diarrhea is caused due to an antibiotic. It is important to consume plenty of liquids while using immodium.

Natural Alternatives to Immodium

"BRAT" diet
Rehydration beverages


Aleve is a brand of naproxen. This medicine is used to treat fever, inflammation, pain and pain in the joints due to osteoarthritis. It is also used to prevent pain in the mouth (taken before dental work). This medicine lasts for around 10 hours. According to some medicine experts it is a good medicine for all day relief.

Aleve is known to cause heartburn, constipation, stomach ache and dizziness. Prolonged use of this medicine may lead to high blood pressure, liver damage, ulcers and kidney damage.

Aleve should be consumed with food. This reduces the risk of gastrointestinal problems. You should never take this drug with milk. It may increase the production of acid in the stomach, thereby causing stomach irritation.


Tagamet is a brand of cimetidine. It is a histamine H2 receptor antagonist. It is used to treat ulcers of the stomach and small intestine, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), esophagitis and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.

Cough, fever, chest congestion, breathing problem, skin rash, jaundice, weakness, disorientation, light headedness, hives and confusion are some possible side effects of Tagamet.

People who are taking nitrosoureas, cisapride or dofetilide should not use Tagamet. If you are pregnant, or intend to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding, you should consult your doctor before using this medicine.


Bufferin is a brand of aspirin. This drug is used to treat inflammation, fever and pain. Some experts in the field of medicine believe that at low doses (80 mg daily), this drug can prevent stroke and heart attack.

Bufferin is known to cause side effects like dizziness, stomach ache, constipation and heartburn. Prolonged use can result in kidney damage, ulcers and liver damage. People affected by bleeding disorder, stomach related medical conditions, diabetes or liver problems should consult their doctor before using this medicine.

People who are using corticosteroids like prednisone or medicines for blood pressure should check with their doctor before using Bufferin or any brand of aspirin. Otherwise it may lead to complications.


Alternagel is a brand of aluminum hydroxide. It is used to treat symptoms of excessive stomach acid like heartburn, acid indigestion and stomach upset. It is an effective antacid that lowers the acid in the stomach in a short time. Alternagel does not prevent acid production. It works only on existing acid in the stomach.

Constipation, hemorrhoids and bowel obstruction are common side effects of alternagel. Rare side effects include black stools, mood changes, tarry stools, confusion, pain during urination and stomach pain.


This lozenge provides relief from cough, sore throat and canker sore pain. This topical anesthetic works by numbing the affected area.

Giant hives, contact eczema, itching, mouth irritation, rash and redness of skin are some infrequent side effects of Cepacol. Rare side effects of this medicine include methemoglobinemia, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea and stomach cramps.


This oral analgesic is used to treat throat pain and mouth pain. It is a fast acting medicine. It targets the pain right where it hurts. It is available in different flavors.

Numbness of mouth, rash, swelling in the mouth, hives, numbness in cheeks, breathing problems, swelling in the face, tightness in the chest, numbness of tongue, swollen lips, nausea, fever, swollen tongue and vomiting are some side effects of Chloraseptic.


Motrin is an NSAID. It is used to treat fever and pain. It works by reducing hormones that cause pain and inflammation.

Belching, abdominal pain, decrease in urine output, bloating, diarrhea, heartburn, itching skin, nausea, indigestion, swelling, vomiting and weight gain are common side effects of Motrin.


Sudafed may be used as a nasal/sinus decongestant, as a stimulant, or as a wakefulness-promoting agent in higher doses.

Like many medicines, Sudafed may cause side effects. Common side effects are weakness or dizziness, restlessness, headache, nausea and insomnia.

B Complex

B Complex is a combination of B vitamins used to treat or prevent vitamin deficiency due to poor diet, certain illnesses, alcoholism, or during pregnancy.

Nausea, increased appetite, abnormal urine color, diarrhea, irritability and acid reflux are some known side effects of B complex.

Consult a Doctor

In today’s competitive world, people do not find time to visit a doctor when they are ill. They rush to a pharmacist. It is not advisable as pharmacists are not trained to diagnose your illness.

When you buy any OTC drug, weigh the benefits and risks. Read the composition. You may be allergic to some. Do not exceed the recommended dosage. Never take medicines with alcoholic beverages.

If after using any OTC drug you experience side effects like breathing problems, vomiting, severe pain, etc, you need to visit a doctor without delay.



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...parents have to look at the potential side effects of giving their child the medicine...

— Dr Harold Samuel Koplewicz, MD, a New York City-based psychiatrist

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2013 Srikanth R


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    • srirad0675 profile imageAUTHOR

      Srikanth R 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for adding value to the article through your comment.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      6 years ago from Planet Earth

      You are so right that people should be alert to the side effects of OTC medications. Many meds offered off the shelf used to be only available through prescription, and although OTC meds are often a lower strength, we are not physicians and shouldn't prescribe our own medication in all cases.

      One side effect of Ibuprofen is asthma - it can trigger attacks in people prone to get them. Also, some side effects (in any medication) have only been seen in small numbers of people and not all are known to be a result of the drug (I work in drug research, and during testing and research, all side effects have to be reported, whether related or not). Drug firms list everything to make sure they're covered legally.


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