Over the counter (OTC) medications are ones that are available off the shelf for purchase in local drug stores and pharmacies. You do not need a prescription for these drugs and they have applications that can be useful for multiple people. OTC medications are regulated by the federal government, just like prescription medication.
You may start taking OTC medications if you continually experience common symptoms that can easily be helped by milder drugs sold off the shelf. For example, acetaminophen or Tylenol may provide short-term relief for simple pain and fever.
OTC drugs usually rely on self-diagnosis; meaning one would have to recognize the symptoms themselves before purchasing the appropriate drug. Always talk to a pharmacist or physician if you are unsure about any OTC drug. Licensed professionals are able to identify any side effects or issues with your use of a specific drug, especially dangerous side effects used with other medications.
OTC drugs are generally cheaper than prescription medications. For example, the prescription drug Clarinex, used to reduce allergy symptoms, is 58% more expensive than the OTC drug, Alavert. If a patient is aware that they are only experiencing seasonal allergies and their symptoms are a common occurrence, it may be highly beneficial (and cheaper) for them to take the OTC drug.