What is medicine?

There are prescription medicines and over-the-counter medicines. Prescription medicines can be dispensed from a pharmacy only on the prescription of a doctor, veterinarian, dentist, or a nurse with limited prescription rights. 

You can buy over-the-counter medicines from a pharmacy with no prescription required. Over-the-counter medicines are part of self-medication. The symptoms of the common flu, for example, can be alleviated by rest, drinking warm drinks and sucking on sugar-free throat lozenges. When necessary, you can also alleviate flu symptoms with over-the-counter medicines.

When are prescription medicines needed?

  • An illness treated with a medicine requires a diagnosis by a doctor. You yourself cannot tell from an earache, for example, whether it is an ear infection requiring a course of antibiotics.  
  • Successful treatment requires follow-ups. A doctor evaluates the need for and success of a treatment. The medicinal treatment of epilepsy, for example, is adjusted according to the state of the illness. 
  • The dose must be prescribed individually. In the treatment of high blood pressure, for example, a dose half that of someone else’s may be sufficient for some patients.  
  • Medicines may cause adverse reactions, and, for this reason, the use must be considered on a case-by-case basis relative to the efficacy of the medicine.  
  • Medicines may have unexpected or serious interactions with other medicines, and this risk must be assessed as part of the overall medication. 

When can I use over-the-counter medicines?

  • When your symptoms indicate a mild illness suitable for self-medication so clearly that a doctor’s opinion is not necessary. A fever related to the flu, for example, can be reduced with painkillers.  
  • The symptoms are mild and temporary. Nasal congestion related to the flu, for example, can be alleviated with nasal sprays. 
  • A doctor has previously determined the need for medication. You do not have to visit the doctor’s office every year for a pollen allergy, for example, if the allergy has been diagnosed previously and over-the-counter medicines have been suitable. 

Pharmacy staff can give advice on treatment at home and over-the-counter medicines. If necessary, the pharmacy staff can also direct you to visit the doctor’s office.

Can over-the-counter medicines cause harm?

Over-the-counter medicines have adverse effects, too, just like all medicines. The long-term use of over-the-counter medicines may cause harm. The use of nasal sprays that contract the mucous membranes of the nose on adults and over ten-year-olds for longer than ten days, and longer than five days on children between two and ten years of age, may damage the mucous membranes or maintain the congestion of the nose. The long-term use of over-the-counter medicines may cover the symptoms of a more serious illness and delay a visit to the doctor’s office. 

Over-the-counter medicines do not suit everybody

You can be allergic to a medicine. For example, allergy to a cream containing bacitracin and neomycin, commonly used in the treatment of wounds, is rather common. Some illnesses may prevent the use of medicines. Anti-inflammatory analgesics, for example, may trigger an asthma attack in someone with asthma. Medicines have interactions with other medicines. Heartburn medicines, for example, prevent the absorption of some antibiotics. 

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