Coping with pain on its own can be difficult, and that’s why some pain medications can be purchased over-the-counter. However, there are many different kinds of over-the-counter pain medication, each with its own set of ideal uses. To get the most out of your painkillers, read on:

The Types of Over-the-Counter Pain Medications

There are two main types of over-the-counter painkiller. While they all can help relieve muscle, joint, headache, and other kinds of pain, each type comes with its own set of benefits and risks. Some people may respond differently to each kind of medication as well, thus proving the need for variety.

●    Acetaminophen

Acetaminophen is most commonly used to relieve pain and reduce fevers. Most commonly found in cold medicines and Tylenol, acetaminophen is often combined with other drugs to treat allergies, cold and flu symptoms, and insomnia. In over-the-counter medications, acetaminophen is used sparingly, but prescription drugs use larger amounts and mix them with other painkillers to relieve severe pain.

●    NSAIDs

NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, come in many different forms. Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen are all over-the-counter NSAIDs. These drugs can reduce swelling, relieve pain, and prevent blood from clotting. Larger doses of NSAIDs are only accessible via prescription.


Unlike acetaminophen, NSAIDs work by preventing the enzyme COX from sending pain signals to the brain. Traditional NSAIDs block two forms of the enzyme: COX-1 and COX-2, while COX-2 inhibitors only block the second form. Traditional NSAIDs and COX-2 inhibitors should not be taken together.

Which One Should I Take?

Determining the right over-the-counter pain medication for you depends on several factors: pain type and level, medication history, and how the medication should be taken. For pain accompanied by swelling, NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Naproxen work best. Pain accompanied by a fever can be treated with acetaminophen, although acetaminophen is often mixed with other drugs. Always check what medications are in your cold medicine before taking it.


People with a relatively clear health history don’t have much to worry about in regards to side effects, but those with a history of kidney disease or impaired kidney function should avoid taking traditional NSAIDs. For those taking medication, it is always best to check to see if an OTC medication will interact with daily prescription medications.


If you have any questions about pain medications and pain relief options, speak with your primary care physician. To browse drug-free pain relief options, visit Medical Supply Depot.

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