What To Know About OTC Pain Relief Medications


Pain can affect one’s daily life. Sometimes, having pain like a headache, toothache, or body pain hamper the things you need to do, which leads to delays and inconvenience. When this happens frequently, it can lead to stress and anxiety, affecting one’s mental health. 

The easiest thing to relieve pain is to reach for pain medication. In the United States, sales of over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication amounted to USD$34.3 billion in 2017, and almost every household has a bottle in their medicine cabinet.  

What Is An OTC Pain Medication? 

Over-the-counter pain medications are drugs that you can buy without a doctor’s prescription that relieve minor pain and lower fever. They can be purchased without a prescription because they’re generally safe if taken correctly.

Women become victims of pain more due to menstrual pain and breast pain post delivery. The pain can be cured by medication and naturally by using ice & heat packs. To explore more ice & heat packs you can visit bodyice.com.

Categories Of OTC Pain Medications 

There are two categories of OTC pain medications: acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These two work in various ways. Read below to learn the difference and understand which OTC pain medications to buy or take.


Acetaminophen is a drug that can treat mild to moderate pain and can also reduce fever. The most popular ones you can buy at your local pharmacist are tylenol, paracetamol, and panadol. If you want to know what does paracetamol do, there are several articles about it online. 

Acetaminophen comes in tablets, capsules, and suspensions. Moreover, there are chewable and quick-dissolving tablets and syrup for easier administration to children. It’s gentle and can even be taken orally on an empty stomach. 

woman taking pills

This OTC pain medication is often used for headaches, toothaches, menstrual pain, and muscle aches and can relieve the pain brought by a vaccination shot. There’s acetaminophen for children, but you must check the label indications if it’s for kids because a higher dose may put them at risk.  

If giving this to a child, check the child’s weight and read the label to know the correct dosage. It’s also vital that you measure it correctly using a dosing cup, spoon, or syringe. A household spoon is not recommended for measuring medicine since it may be inaccurate or provide a more significant yield. Moreover, for chewable medication, remind your child to chew the tablets thoroughly before swallowing for better effect.  

Extended-release tablets are meant to release the drugs in the system at a specific time. Therefore, it’s not recommended to chew them before intake. This is because it releases potency, increasing the risk of side effects.   

If the condition doesn’t improve, it would be best to consult a doctor. This medication can’t be taken for longer than five days in children and 10 days in adults.   

The Risks And Side-Effects Of Acetaminophen 

Although acetaminophen may be safe, it must be taken cautiously. It’s recommended to use it as directed and never take more than the suggested dosage. Adults can only take a maximum of 4,000 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen daily. But since it can be present in other medications, calculating the amount you have taken may be more challenging than you think.   

If you experience side effects like rash, hives, itching, swelling in your body, redness of the skin, and difficulty breathing, you need to stop taking the medication and go to the hospital. The drug can cause severe liver damage and even death. Furthermore, if you take more than three glasses of alcoholic beverages daily, you cannot take this medication since it can adversely affect your health.

The drug is safe for pregnant women. Experts say that, although it can pass through the breast milk, the dose will be too low to harm the baby. But if you’re uncomfortable with that thought, you may resort to other ways of relieving pain or temporarily stop breastfeeding and resume once you’re okay.  

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Like acetaminophen, NSAIDs can treat pain and lower fever. The three types of NSAIDs commonly bought over-the-counter are ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. NSAIDs work by slowing the effects of prostaglandins in the body. These hormones signal that the body has an injury or tissue damage. NSAIDs will block the reaction that produces prostaglandins, thereby limiting your pain.  

Doctors can prescribe a higher dose of NSAIDs for more severe pain. Unlike acetaminophen, NSAIDs can’t be taken on an empty stomach to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.  

NSAIDs, specifically aspirin, interfere with blood clotting because it blocks the cyclooxygenase  enzyme (COX). Doctors previously prescribed this for patients with coronary artery disease since it helps with the blood flow, which can prevent heart attacks. But today, it’s believed that the risks far outweigh the benefits, so prescribing it for that condition has stopped.  

The Risks And Side-Effects Of NSAIDs 

NSAIDs can effectively treat pain and fever, but taking them incorrectly poses a severe risk of heart attack, stroke, gastrointestinal bleeding, and ulcers. People over 60 should take this with caution since it can cause irreversible kidney damage. 

Some common side effects of NSAIDs are bloating, heartburn, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and mild headache. Moreover, the longer use and higher dose of NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. If you have a heart condition, consider talking to your doctor before taking this drug since it can reduce the effects of some blood pressure medications.  

With concerns to the kidney, you may notice swelling of the ankles and feet. That’s why patients with reduced kidney function are advised not to take NSAIDs. If you have chronic pain, taking this drug daily is not ideal, and you may want to talk to your doctor about other alternative medications or treatments.  


Living without pain is possible with OTC pain medications. But even if you can access this medicine conveniently, you must be cautious as it can harm you. It would be best to know what each medication is about by reading the label carefully and consulting with your doctor.