It can be challenging to choose the right over-the-counter pain medication. While the choices are many, it’s very important
to make a decision based on your symptoms and other medical issues. Not all pain relievers are created equal, and knowing the difference between various types can be very helpful.
Before taking any medication, you should consult with your physician and/or pharmacist. Additionally, you should carefully read labels for warnings and other information. This is especially true for combination products used for treating
pain and other conditions, such as colds, allergies, arthritis and muscle aches.
Acetaminophen and Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly used over-the-counter pain medications.
The main difference between the two is that NSAIDs help reduce pain, fever and inflammation. Acetaminophen only reduces pain and fever.
George Carro, Pharmacist at NorthShore Evanston Hospital, helps clarify the differences between these common over-the-counter pain relievers to help you make a better, more-informed decision:
Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) tends to be milder on the stomach. Keep in mind that acetaminophen will not help with inflammation. Acetaminophen is an active ingredient in many other medications, including cold and flu preparations. Be sure to
read all labels carefully so you do not exceed the recommended maximum daily dose of acetaminophen.
Safe for Children? Acetaminophen is generally considered safe for use in children. Always be sure to confirm proper usage and dosing information with your pediatrician.
Side Effects? Liver toxicity, including liver damage and failure, can be associated with improper use of this drug. Alcohol consumption in combination with acetaminophen use may increase this risk.
NSAIDs—Aspirin (Bayer®), Ibuprofen (Advil ®or Motrin®), Naproxen (Aleve®) and others—can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
Safe for Children? As with any drug for children, it is recommended to discuss proper usage and dosing information with your pediatrician. Please consider the following for use in children:
Side Effects? The most common side effects include stomach and kidney problems. It is recommended to take all NSAIDs with food to help minimize stomach irritation. If you have heart conditions, stomach ulcers or blood disorders, please consult
with your physician before taking these medications.
No drug—prescription or over-the-counter—is without risks. Always consult with your physician if you have any questions or concerns about your medications. Our NorthShore pharmacists can also answer questions and help you make informed, over-the-counter
pain reliever selections.
Some of the most common illnesses that send us to the doctor’s office can be easily treated with medications; however, there
isn’t an easy, one-stop solution for every sniffle, cough or infection.
While antibiotics are one of the most frequently prescribed medications for a variety of conditions, they are not a cure-all for everything. In fact, for many common illnesses caused by viruses (flu, colds and sore throats), antibiotics are not recommended.
So when do you know if an antibiotic will help relieve symptoms?
Dirk Killelea, Manager of the NorthShore Evanston Hospital Pharmacy, offers his insight on antibiotics, including when you should take them and when you shouldn’t:
How frequently do you take antibiotics?
How often do you purge your medicine cabinet? You should plan to clean through your cabinet and properly dispose of any medications every six months. Using expired medications can be hazardous to your health. Therefore, you should not be saving unused prescription
medications for later use, nor be saving expired prescription or over-the-counter medications.
Tina Zook, Pharmacy Manager, provides the following instructions for properly disposing of medications:
There will be instances where instructions are not given on the drug label and a drug take-back program is not available. In these cases, you follow the following steps for disposing of medications:
How often do you clean your medicine cabinet? What has your process been for disposing of medications?