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Over The Counter Medicine (OTC)

What are over the counter (OTC) medicines?

OTC medicines are non-prescription medicines used to treat minor symptoms such as low-grade fever, stuffy nose and cough. Certain OTC medicines contain substances that are controlled under the Poison’s Act 1952 and can be obtained after consultation with the pharmacists.

What should you do when buying OTC medicines?

  1. Talk to the pharmacist when you are considering buying an OTC medicines.
    • Get as much information as possible about the medicine.
    • Ask the following questions:
      • What is the name of the medicine?
      • What is the purpose of taking the medicine?
      • What is its registration status?
      • How to take the medicine?
      • How much to take?
      • How many times should it be used / taken in a day?
      • How long should it be used?
      • What are the side effects of the medicine?
      • Does it have interactions with any other medicine, food or disease?
      • How should it be kept?
  2. Always read and follow the instructions on the medicines labels.
    Over-the-counter medicines labels provide the information you need in order to take your medicines correctly, such as :

    • Active ingredient and excipients
    • The use of the medicine
    • Interaction or side effects that may occur
    • The right method to take the medicine and the right time to take or not to take the medicine
    • Other precautions
  3. Choose OTC medicines that contain the required active ingredients only.
    It is better that you use medicine that is only used to cure the conditions or symptoms that you are having. Seek advice from your pharmacists. If you are taking more than one medicine, please take note of the active ingredients to avoid taking medicines with the same active ingredients.
  4. Check the packaging and expiry date to ensure it is not spoilt
    Do not buy medicines that have damaged packaging or expired. The expiry date will indicate that the medicine will no longer be effective after the date.
  5. Inform your doctor if you are taking OTC medicines frequently
    Most OTC medicines are only used for short period of time.
  6. Stop the medicine if you experience any intolerable effects, or if you notice any unusual reaction. Report to the pharmacist.

Commonly used OTC Medicines

Types of preparations Action Side effects
Eg. Ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, xylometazoline
Unclogs stuffy nose; especially important if a child cannot sleep, eat or drink because his nose is stuffed up. It shrinks blood vessels thus widens nasal passages and slows down mucous production. Topical decongestant nose drops or sprays may cause a “rebound effect”, i.e recurrence of stuffiness if used continuously. Its use is limited to a maximum duration of 7 days.
Eg. Dexchlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, promethazine, triprolidine
Used for allergic conditions by helping to dry up nasal secretions and relieve itchiness. Can make young children sleepy or in some cases, hyperactive.
Eg. Ammonium chloride, guaifenesin,ipecacuanha
Found in cough syrups to break up thick mucous in the lungs as to allow cough up the mucous. The most frequent side effect of expectorants is nausea & vomiting.
Eg. Dextromethorphan
Found in cough syrups to stop dry, shacking cough. It reduces the urge to cough by blocking the cough center in the brain.
Antipyretics / Analgesics
Eg. Paracetamol, ibuprofen,
Used for decreasing fever.
Used for relieving muscle aches and pain.
Eg: magnesium trisilicate, sodium bicarbonate and aluminium hydroxide
Used for relieving upset stomach. May cause constipation or diarrhoea.
Effectiveness may be reduced if taken together with milk.


Last reviewed : 23 April 2014
Writer : Dr. Nour Hanah Othman
Che Pun bt. Bujang
Kamariah Shamsinar bt. Kamarul Baharin
Nor Eizlin bt. Mohd Helmi
Hajidah bt. Mohd Taib
Nyaros bt. Abdullah
Rosidah bt. Din
Siti Nurul Fathihah bt. Baharudin
Hazlin bt. Othman
Accreditor Che Pun bt. Bujang
Reviewer Norhayati bt. Musa