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Over the counter medicine

Over the counter medicine
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Over-the-counter medicines

2-minute read

You don't need a prescription for some medicines. These are called over-the-counter medicines.

You can buy painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, as well as cough and cold remedies, over the counter. You can also source complementary or alternative medicines over the counter.

Like all medicines, you should think about the risks and benefits before using them.

Types of over-the-counter medicines

In Australia, over-the-counter medicines can be supplied in three ways.

Pharmacist-only medicines

Some over-the-counter medicines can only be sold to you after you have spoken to the pharmacist. Examples include inhalers (puffers) to relieve asthma and mild steroid-containing creams for skin irritations.

Pharmacy medicines

Some over-the-counter medicines are available only at pharmacies but you do not need to speak to a pharmacist to buy them. Examples include medicines to treat diarrhoea and symptoms of allergy.

Medicines for general sale

You can buy some over-the-counter medicines in supermarkets and health food stores. Examples include cough and cold remedies, some painkillers such as paracetamol and aspirin, and vitamins.

What are the risks of taking over-the-counter medicines?

Over-the-counter medicines are still medicines. They have side effects, as well as benefits. For example, there are some over-the-counter painkillers you shouldn't use if you have stomach, kidney, liver or heart problems.

And some over-the-counter medicines and alternative medicines can interact with other prescribed medicines, making them more effective or less effective. Or the combination may give you side effects.

Always let your doctor or pharmacist know what prescription, over-the-counter and alternative or complementary medicines you are taking.

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Last reviewed: January 2020

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