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You can save on health care with OTC drugs

The Mayo Clinic says some over-the-counter drugs may preclude a trip to the doctor.

By Karen Datko Jan 20, 2010 12:33PM

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In recent decades, with many Americans covered by some sort of health benefit, consumers are quick to head for their doctor's office for all sorts of complaints. Some see that tendency as one of the drivers of rising health care costs.


Could it be that consumers could save time, money and strain on the health care system if they paid a little closer attention to what's in their medicine chest at home? Doctors at the Mayo Clinic suggest they can.

In the January issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter, doctors list more than a dozen over-the-counter medications that can help manage minor ailments.


Examples include:

  • Swim-Ear, Auro-Dri: These products can help after swimming and also may be helpful in treating mild outer-ear infections that result from swimming or water getting in the ear. The acetic acid in these products helps re-establish the ear's normal environment and discourages yeast and bacterial growth.
  • Debrox, Murine Earwax Removal and Mack's Wax Away eardrops: The active ingredient in these products, carbamide peroxide, is ideal for dissolving wax in the outer ear. Wax is then flushed out using warm water in a bulb syringe.
  • Chloraseptic spray: This spray helps relieve mild to moderate sore throat pain. After the initial taste wears off, the spray can soothe the throat for several hours.
  • Famotidine (Pepcid AC, others): Pepcid is one of several H-2-receptor blockers that ease stomach upset and indigestion. It reduces the production of stomach acid. Other drugs in this category are ranitidine (Zantac) and cimetidine (Tagamet). For adults over age 50, an evaluation for underlying medical conditions is recommended before using these products on an ongoing basis.
  • Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol): This medication is helpful for stomach upset, heartburn and diarrhea, including traveler's diarrhea.
  • Loperamide (Imodium): Mayo Clinic doctors say this is an excellent drug for diarrhea. Intermittent use can help those who have diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. Loperamide shouldn't be used for chronic undiagnosed diarrhea. Changes in bowel habits can signal an underlying health concern such as a tumor or infection.
  • One percent hydrocortisone (Cortaid, others): The strongest nonprescription hydrocortisone, this cream can soothe minor skin irritations, inflammation and rashes. It can be used almost anywhere except right around the eye.
  • Loratadine (Claritin, Alavert, others): This new generation of nonprescription antihistamines generally is less sedating and causes fewer side effects than previous-generation products. For instance, urinary retention in older men with enlarged prostates occurs with older agents such as Benadryl and Chlor-Trimeton, but this is not typically seen with loratadine use.
  • Docosanol (Abreva): This product may help shorten the life of a cold sore by a day. When applied at the earliest point of an outbreak, it may even help prevent the cold sore blister from forming.

Related reading at

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