The number of over-the-counter (OTC) medications is increasing as more prescription medications are being switched to OTC status. Many older adults rely on self-management of medications to treat common medical conditions such as the common cold, pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Although OTC medications are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada, many people are unaware of proper dosing, side effects, adverse drug reactions, and possible medication interactions that may not be clearly labelled. This article reviews the major side effects of common OTC medications and how to recognize these adverse effects, and provides health care professionals with information to offer to older adults and their caregivers about safe OTC medication use.
Key words: over-the-counter, self-medication, older adults, side effects, patient education.