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Information for Older People

The following are suggested medications available over-the-counter (OTC) that you might want to consider keeping handy. These fall into three categories, medications for: relief from problems likely to be experienced by the older person; minor conditions that most of us experience at some time; problems that certain people experience from time to time.

OTC medications for treating problems likely to be experienced by the older person

Four types are available depending on the type and degree of constipation - stimulant laxatives encourage evacuation by irritating the gut wall, bulking agents increase the volume of the stool, faecal softeners soften the stool and osmotic laxatives alter the consistency of the stool. (If constipation persists it might be worth re-examining the diet).

Available as creams and suppositories to help stop the itch and ease the pain.

For treating dry skin conditions such as pruritus. Be cautious of slipping if using emollient oils in the bath.

OTC medications for minor conditions experienced by most people at some time

Oral pain relief
e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol, or any combination product which may contain any of the above and an opioid analagesic e.g. codeine or dihydrocodeine. Available in tablet, capsule and effervescent tablet form, all are suitable for a wide range of aches and pains including migraine, rheumatic or mild arthritic pain, and toothache. They also have a fever (anti pyretic) reducing effect.

It is important that you do not take more than the recommended amount of any pain reliever. If your GP has prescribed you pain relievers and you also want to take OTC pain relievers check that by taking the two medications you are not taking more than the recommended dose.

Topical/muscular pain relief
Available as creams, ointments, sprays, mousses and gels, for sporting injuries, sprains and muscular pains.

Cough preparations
Available as a liquid or lozenges to stop a cough (suppressants) or loosen it (expectorants).

Sore throat medicine
Pastilles, lozenges, sprays or gargles which may contain a local anaesthetic or antiseptic.

Other cold relief products
Decongestants for blocked noses are available as sprays, drops, capsules or tablets. Combination remedies containing pain relievers and decongestants are available in various formulations.

Creams, solutions and ointments for treating minor cuts, grazes and burns.

If you have experienced any of the conditions mentioned below you may want to consider keeping a small supply of an appropriate self-medication treatment at home.

Tablets, capsules, powders and suspensions are available. Antacids which neutralise excess acid, alginates which prevent acid reaching the oesophagus/windpipe or acid suppressants (H2 antagonists).

Antihistamines are available as tablets and nasal sprays. Suitable for relief of hayfever and other allergies. Antihistamines or hydrocortisone may be needed for skin allergies such as hives or insect bites. Eye drops containing either sodium cromoglycate or xylometazoline for itchy, sore eyes caused by allergies.

Capsules containing loperamide on its own or in combination with other products, such as oral rehydration solutions, can provide relief or replace lost fluid and minerals.

Guidelines for everyone on self-treating safely

  • Keep all medicines in a secure place, out of sight and reach of small children and preferably where an adult can keep an eye on them eg the kitchen
  • Keep all medicines in their original container and take precautions to avoid them being affected by heat and humidity
  • Always read and follow the instructions, do not exceed the stated dose or treatment period.
  • Do not use or keep medicines past their sell-by date
  • Women who are pregnant should consult their GP before taking OTC medicines
  • Always check with your pharmacist or practice nurse before taking an OTC medicine if you are already taking any prescription or complimentary medicines

For more information on which products to buy for your medicine chest visit

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