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Pharmacist over the counter and prescription drugs

4 Key Differences Between Over the Counter and Prescription Drugs

There are two major categories of medications available at your local pharmacy: over the counter (OTC) and prescription drugs. Here are some key areas where these drugs are compared:

  • Prescriptions:

OTC drugs do not require a prescription and can be bought off the shelf, whereas prescription medications require a doctor’s prescription. This is usually due to the fact that  the OTC drugs have more general effects that can be used to treat symptoms and normally have milder side-effects. Prescription drugs are more specific, could have serious side effects, and can only be dispensed with a doctor’s recommendation.

  • Regulation:

OTC drugs are sold off the shelf and are available to the general public and are not restricted to sale in pharmacies. They can be found at convenience stores and local grocery stores, making them much easier to access. On the other hand, prescription drugs can be dispensed by local and online pharmacies who have been licensed by the appropriate licensing boards.

  • Usage:

The use of prescription drugs is highly specific, as they are prescribed after a consultation with a doctor. When receiving a prescription medication you will be given all the information on the time and quantity you need to take your dose by your pharmacist. OTC medications present this information on labels and use weight or age ranges to recommend dosage. Generally, OTC medications are available to everybody, whereas prescription medication is specific for that individual patient.

  • Diagnosis:

OTC medications generally rely on self-diagnosis. If you are experiencing mild symptoms such as simple fever, pain, or heartburn, drugs available over the counter may provide relief. For example, acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help with your regular headaches. If the symptom is new, severe, or worrying, you should see a healthcare professional.

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