• Decrease font size
  • Return font size to normal
  • Increase font size
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Drugs

  • Print
  • Share
  • E-mail

The best way to take your over-the-counter pain reliever? Seriously.

(PDF version - 6MB)

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers/fever reducers (the kind you can buy without a prescription) are safe and effective when used as directed. However, they can cause serious problems when used by people with certain conditions or taking specific medicines. They can also cause problems in people who take too much, or use them for a longer period of time than the product’s Drug Facts label recommends. That is why it is important to follow label directions carefully. If you have questions, talk to a pharmacist or health care professional.

What are pain relievers/fever reducers?

There are two categories of over-the-counter pain relievers/fever reducers: acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Acetaminophen is used to relieve headaches, muscle aches and fever. It is also found in many other medicines, such as cough syrup and cold and sinus medicines. OTC NSAIDs are used to help relieve pain and reduce fever. NSAIDs include aspirin, naproxen, ketoprofen and ibuprofen, and are also found in many medicines taken for colds, sinus pressure and allergies.

How do I use pain relievers/fever reducers safely?

These products, when used occasionally and taken as directed, are safe and effective. Read the labels of all your over-the-counter medicines so you are aware of the correct recommended dosage. If a measuring tool is provided with your medicine, use it as directed.

What can happen if I do not use pain relievers/fever reducers correctly?

Using too much acetaminophen can cause serious liver damage, which may not be noticed for several days. NSAIDs, for some people with certain medical problems, can lead to the development of stomach bleeding and kidney disease.

What if I need to take more than one medicine?

There are many OTC medicines that contain the same active ingredient. If you take several medicines that happen to contain the same active ingredient, for example a pain reliever along with a cough-cold-fever medicine, you might be taking two times the normal dose and not know it. So read the label and avoid taking multiple medicines that contain the same active ingredient or talk to your pharmacist or health care professional.
 

Before using any medicine, remember to think SAFER:

    • Speak up

    • Ask questions

    • Find the facts

    • Evaluate your choices

    • Read the label