Why You Should Tell Your Pharmacist the Over-The-Counter Medications You Take

Did you ever wonder why your pharmacist asks you if you’re taking any over-the-counter medications? Over-the-counter drugs are safe; otherwise why wouldn’t they require a prescription? So is it really that important to tell your pharmacist each and every one you take?

The answer is yes. Over-the-counter medications go through a different approval process than prescription drugs. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still monitors them for safety and effectiveness, they usually do it after the product is already on the market. Prescription drugs need to pass very strict examination before sale.

Some over-the-counters can contain ingredients that shouldn’t be in there. Last year, the FDA identified a trend in herbal supplements to enhance male potency – they illegally contained sildenafil, the active ingredient of prescription Viagra. You may not think it’s that big a deal, but including prescription medications in over-the-counters can be very dangerous.

For example, one of the more serious side effects of Viagra is visual disturbances, which can become permanent if the medication is not stopped immediately. It also has a very serious interaction with nitrates (used for heart issues) and alpha 1-blockers (used for prostate problems): the combination can drastically lower your blood pressure leading to dizziness and falls. If you don’t know that Viagra is in the product, it’s a lot harder for you to get the appropriate medical treatment.

Serious interactions

Even over-the-counters that contain only the ingredients they’re supposed to can be harmful. St. John’s Wort, an over-the-counter used to treat depression, has a number of serious interactions with prescription drugs. Unless you tell your pharmacist what you’re taking, he or she has no way of knowing if that over-the-counter interacts with your prescription medications.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s especially important to tell your pharmacist about your over-the-counter drugs. For instance, pain relievers like Aleve, Advil, or Motrin are not automatically safe to use; only when the benefit is greater than the risk should you use them.

It takes just a few minutes of your time to list your over-the-counter medications, but will save you from possible harm. So, be sure to tell your pharmacist the next time you stop by.

About the Author

Julie Kaplan, Pharm. D.
Julie Kaplan is a licensed pharmacist in Virginia and the District of Columbia. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in English from The College of William and Mary and a Doctor of Pharmacy from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has experience in patient communication from working as a retail pharmacist.