Pain comes in many forms. For those that are strictly physical, measures need to be taken to ensure that we’re able to show up in our lives as our best and highest functioning selves. Pain can prevent lots of things, and when not treated, it only gets worse over time.
With complications about prescription painkillers such as cost, accessibility, and the growing opioid epidemic—understanding how to utilize over the counter medications to alleviate pain is necessary. Not all painkillers are created equal, and they all have their respective strengths when it comes to the issues they are optimal for addressing.
How to Choose
Establishing familiarity with, and getting into the habit of understanding usage instructions as well as ingredients will save you more trouble on top of your existing pain. Follow these general guidelines for selecting an over the counter painkiller that will help more than hurt.
1. Know the Contents of What You’re Taking
Understanding the active ingredients in any medication is critical. Information on the label will include the name of the drug, the active ingredients, the function of the drug, the form in which it comes, what it does not contain, recommended ages, and warnings. Make sure to read labels carefully.
2. Avoid Interactions with Other Medications
Ensure that you’re aware of the active ingredients in the medications you are already taking, and how they affect you individually. If you’re confused about whether or not an OTC medication is okay with your typical dosage of a drug, consult with a pharmacist or primary care physician.
3. Keep Your Doctor Informed
Even if it appears as though you are not experiencing any adverse effects to a medication, you must fill your referring physician in on what you tend to take. This will help to prevent miscommunication down the line, as well as assist them in understanding what is right for you.
Play it Safe
If you’re unsure about a painkiller or dosage, try your best to avoid taking your chances. Adverse effects are not common, though they can occur.
Nonprescription, over the counter medications that are classified as pain relievers and fever reducers, are classified under one of two distinctions.
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
These types of over the counter drugs are not recommended for children under 18 who have chickenpox or flu. They are useful for head, back, and muscle aches, inflammation, menstrual pain, post minor surgery, sprains, and other minor causes of pains and discomfort.
Risks of taking NSAIDs include damage to the gastrointestinal system, kidney, and blood pressure.
Do not take them if:
- You’re taking blood thinners or high blood pressure medication.
- Consume more than two alcoholic beverages per day.
- You have any pre-existing conditions relating to stomach, heart, liver, or kidney disease.
Acetaminophen is generally safe for children under eighteen years of age. Though it does not treat inflammation specifically, it can be useful for those who cannot ingest NSAIDs. Common ailments that may be addressed by acetaminophen include sinus pain, cold, insomnia, migraine, and arthritis.
When taken as directed, acetaminophen is safe. However, caution should be exercised about the liver.
Do not take it if:
- You consume more than two alcoholic beverages per day.
- Have existing liver damage.
- Have taken other acetaminophen products that would set the dosage above what is recommended.
The best practice for using OTC medications is to follow the recommended dosage. Be mindful of the risk, and to ensure that any other medications you take will not negatively interact with them. Understand the difference in brands and contents of each respective product.