Your guide to OTC medications

OTC products

You don’t always need a trip to the doctor to treat heartburn, sore muscles or a runny nose. That’s where over-the-counter (OTC) medications come in—providing easy, low-cost ways to manage common health issues without a prescription.

While they don’t require a script, OTC drugs must be proven safe. In 1972, the Food and Drug Administration established the OTC Drug Review to ensure OTC medications are safe and effective before they hit store shelves. In 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act modernized this process so safety issues could be fixed faster and new, innovative OTC drugs could be sold sooner.¹

In addition, some OTC meds are more closely regulated than others. For example, pseudoephedrine (sold as Sudafed®) is an effective decongestant, but it can also be used to make illegal drugs—so many states require you to show ID to purchase it.²

OTC medicine classics

OTC drugs can be a reliable source of relief for everyday health issues. Here are some OTC classics to keep handy in your medicine cabinet:

  1. Pain relief meds like ibuprofen (Advil®) for minor aches and pains
  2. Digestive health meds like bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol®) for an upset stomach
  3. Cough, cold and allergy meds like guaifenesin (Mucinex®) for cough and congestion
  4. Vitamins and supplements like multivitamins for overall wellness

Alongside medications, other OTC essentials include personal care products like mouthwash and first-aid materials like bandages.

If your Humana plan includes an OTC allowance, you can order these OTC items and many others through CenterWell Pharmacy®.

Don’t skip reading OTC labels

Focusing on a drug label’s directions and skipping over the rest is tempting when you’re not feeling well. But reading the full label carefully is important to avoid serious health risks. For example, the label for acetaminophen (Tylenol®) warns you that taking too much may lead to severe, permanent liver damage.³

Here are the key parts to pay attention to on an OTC drug label:⁴

  1. Active ingredients—what makes the medicine work
  2. Purpose—the category of drug, such as antihistamine or antacid
  3. Uses—the symptoms or conditions the medicine can help treat or prevent
  4. Warnings—guidance on side effects, when the medicine shouldn’t be taken, when to stop taking it and when to see a doctor
  5. Directions—instructions on when, how and how much of the medicine to take
  6. Other information—additional tips, such as how to store the medicine
  7. Inactive ingredients—the colors, flavors or other non-medical ingredients that don’t help the medicine work but may keep it stable or make it easier to take.

Drug labels also include expiration dates, so you know when to toss any expired meds.

If you ever have questions about an OTC drug label, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Steer clear of OTC drug interactions

While OTC labels include safety warnings, they can’t cover every potentially dangerous drug combination.

Here are 3 kinds of drug interactions to keep in mind when taking an OTC medications, especially if you’re taking a prescription at the same time.

Drug-drug interactions

Drug-drug interactions are when 2 or more drugs react with each other. This can include prescriptions, OTC drugs and dietary supplements. For example, aspirin can affect how prescription blood thinners work,³ and the herbal supplement, St. John’s Wort, can interfere with certain types of prescription antidepressants.⁵

Drug-food interactions

Drug-food interactions are when drugs react with food or beverages. For example, grapefruit juice can reduce the effect of the allergy med fexofenadine (Allegra®),⁶ and alcohol doesn’t mix well with cold meds containing dextromethorphan.²

Drug-condition interactions

Drug-condition interactions are when a medical condition you already have makes certain drugs potentially harmful. For example, decongestants, like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed), can worsen high blood pressure,⁷ and antihistamines, like diphenhydramine (Benadryl®), can worsen glaucoma.⁸

To avoid any drug interactions, tell your doctor about all the medications and supplements you’re taking. You can also take comfort in knowing our expert pharmacists double-check every prescription order for potential drug interactions and other safety issues.

Make the most of your OTC benefits

You don’t need health insurance to buy OTC products, but many health plans include OTC benefits. Some plans offer a health savings or flexible spending account to pay for various health expenses, including OTC purchases.

Others, like Humana Medicare Advantage plans, include an OTC allowance that you can spend only on OTC items. To check whether your Humana plan includes this, sign in and see if there’s an OTC credit amount in the top-right corner of your dashboard. You can also check your plan’s summary of benefits.

Spend your OTC allowance in 2 easy steps

Step 1: Check your balance

The OTC credit amount in the top-right corner of your dashboard is how much of your OTC allowance you have to spend. Depending on your plan, your OTC allowance may expire at the end of each month or quarter or roll over to the next month or quarter through the end of your plan year.

We’ll keep track of your OTC allowance for you and automatically update the amount after an order is processed. If your OTC allowance isn’t enough to cover an order, you can simply pay the difference at checkout.

Step 2: Shop the OTC store

Now it’s time for the fun part—stocking up on your OTC favorites. The easiest way to spend your OTC allowance is to shop in the OTC store or CenterWell Pharmacy mobile app. All OTC items ship free and are delivered to you in 10 to 14 days after your order has been processed.

Prescription drug plan (PDP) members can now shop the OTC store too. They won’t have an allowance, but they’ll get 20% off all items each time they shop.

If you have any questions about using your OTC allowance, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


  1. OTC Drug Review Process / OTC Drug Monographs,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, last accessed March 27, 2023.
  2. Over-the-Counter Medicines DrugFacts,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, last accessed March 27, 2023.
  3. Careful: Acetaminophen in Medicines Can Cause Liver Damage,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, last accessed March 27, 2023.
  4. Over-the-Counter Medicines: What’s Right for You?” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, last accessed March 27, 2023.
  5. St. John’s Wort and Depression: In Depth,” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, last accessed March 27, 2023.
  6. Grapefruit Juice and Some Drugs Don’t Mix,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, last accessed March 27, 2023.
  7. Don’t Let Decongestants Squeeze Your Heart,” Harvard Health Publishing, last accessed March 27, 2023.
  8. Why People With Glaucoma Should Avoid Allergy and Decongestant Medications,” Glaucoma Research Foundation, last accessed March 27, 2023.


Links to various other websites from this site are provided for your convenience only and do not constitute or imply endorsement by CenterWell Pharmacy or its subsidiaries of these sites, any products, views, or services described on these sites, or of any other material contained therein. CenterWell Pharmacy disclaims responsibility for their content and accuracy.

This material is provided for informational use only and should not be construed as medical advice or used in place of consulting a licensed medical professional.

Related posts