Self-Care:  Over the Counter Medications

Over the counter medications are available without a prescription that can be used for symptom relief. 

Before using any of these medications, please refer to one of the following resources available on the internet to determine if you should be evaluated by a nurse or physician and to learn more about your condition, how to care for it, and serious signs to look out for:

If you need to see a nurse or physician, please make an appointment with the health center.  *Medications in italics are available in the self-care room at the health center.* 



Fever in most cases is beneficial in fighting an underlying infection and should not be suppressed.  The underlying infection itself may require treatment.  Refer to the resources above to find out.  If there is significant body aches and pains associated with fever, see section on pain below.


Pink eye

Pink eye has a variety of causes.  red, itching, irritated eyes without pain, particularly due to allergic conjunctivitis may be relieved with over the counter eye drops.  If there is no eye pain, decreased vision, or continuous pus coming from the eye you may use Visine A or Naphcon A or lubricating eye drops/artificial tears.  Never wear contacts when pink eye is present or when using these drops.  If the eye is painful, has persistent pus, may have foreign body or chemical in the eye, vision is decreased or symptoms have been prolonged, make an appointment with the health center.  If the cause is suspected to be viral, lubricating eye drops are best but Visine A or Naphcon A can be used once in a while to decrease the redness in order to get through something like an interview.  Be sure to consult the resources above before treating pink eye and make an appointment if indicated or any uncertainty.

Ear wax

Debrox ear drops soften ear wax to make it easier to remove.

Runny nose

If the runny nose is due to allergies/hay fever, antihistamines such as Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec or Allegra or their generic versions may be beneficial.  Another antihistamine, Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may be used at bedtime but avoid during the daytime especially if driving since it causes significant drowsiness and will make you much less alert whether you realize it or not.  If the runny nose is due to a cold, it is better to allow the drainage to continue to run to help clear the infection.  If using antihistamines such as Benadryl or other antihistamine containing cold medicines such as Nyquil for runny nose due to cold, use only if absolutely necessary and as little as possible.

Nasal congestion

Decongestants such as phenylephrine (Sudafed) help to reduce the swelling of the nasal passageway.  Afrin nasal spray can be used for 3-4 days but prolonged use may result in dependency.

Sore throat

See section on pain below.  Cepacol lozenges are also helpful.


It is best not to suppress a cough.  Cough’s help to assure your body is getting rid of infectious material to prevent worsening infection.  If your cough is intolerable to classmates, roommates or you then you may find Robitussin (guaifenesin) DM somewhat helpful.  Dark chocolate has also been found to alleviate coughs. Plain Robitussin (guaifenesin) helps somewhat to thin mucus and loosens coughs but really doesn’t accomplish anything significantly more than just adequate fluid intake will. Cough drops may also be helpful.

Mouth sores

Oragel will help to alleviate discomfort from canker sores inside the mouth.  Abreva will help to alleviate discomfort and promote the healing of cold sores near or on the lips.


Mylanta tablets and TUMS may relieve indigestion and heartburn.  Zantac, Pepcid or Prilosec may also be helpful and will be effective for a longer period of time than Mylanta or TUMS.


Vomiting is a natural response to rid the body of infection.  Nausea and vomiting should be managed by maintaining good hydration by taking frequent sips of clear liquids.  Ginger beer (which has real natural ginger, not alcohol) and can be found at various food stores helps to alleviate nausea.  A prescription is needed for other anti-emetics but are only prescribed when vomiting is prolonged (greater than 24-48 hours) and/or has led to signs of dehydration such as significant lightheadedness or no longer urinating.


Diarrhea is a natural response to rid the body of infection.  If the diarrhea is interfering with your daily schedule, then Imodium AD (loperamide)  can be used to alleviate the symptoms.


Plenty of fluids and fiber in the diet is the best way to manage constipation.  For short term relief you can use Miralax (polyethylene glycol).

Burning with urination

See section on pain below.  The cause of burning with urination should always be determined by a healthcare professional.  After the cause has been determined and treated if necessary, you can use Pyridium (phenazopyridine) to alleviate the symptoms.

Vaginal yeast infection

Gyne-Lotrimin (clotrimazole vaginal cream) and other yeast vaginitis creams will result in resolution of most cases of vaginal yeast infection.  The pill form of treatment (Diflucan), requires consultation with a health center nurse or physician.  You should only treat this condition if your only symptoms are those typical of a vaginal yeast infection and have not already failed a trial of medication.  See resources above.

Minor skin cuts/abrasions

Topical antibiotic ointments such as Neosporin, bacitracin or triple antibiotic, help to prevent infection and promote healing.

Minor skin burns

Topical antibiotic ointments such as Neosporin, bacitracin, or triple antibiotic, help to prevent infection and promote healing.  Aloe Vera gel and topical analgesic sprays such as Solarcaine can help to alleviate associated pain as well as Tylenol or Ibuprofen as discussed below in pain section.

Poison ivy rash

Itching can be relieved with hydrocortisone cream.

Ringworm/Jock itch/Athletes feet

These are all caused by the same infection called tinea and can be treated with lotrimin (clotrimazole) cream although Lamisil cream is more reliable to assure treatment success.  You should only treat these symptoms yourself if your only symptoms are those typical of these conditions.  See resources above.

Pain (minor headaches, fever, minor injuries, minor abdominal pain, sore throats, etc.)

Tylenol (acetaminophen):


  • Should typically be tried first as it is generally safer and better tolerated than other pain relievers. 
  • You should not use Tylenol (acetaminophen) if you have a history of liver problems.  It is also important to make sure you do not take more than the recommended daily limit since it can cause liver failure and death in excess doses. 
  • You should keep in mind that some cold medications and prescription pain medications are combination products containing some Tylenol (acetaminophen) and should be considered in your total daily dose. 
  • Always use the lowest dose necessary to make the pain tolerable.  Don’t use 2 pills when 1 will do.


NSAID’s (Non- steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve):


  • In addition to alleviating pain also reduce inflammation.
    • If pain can be controlled with Tylenol, it is best not to use NSAID’s in the first 48-72 hours following an injury since inflammation during this time period helps to establish healing. 
    • NSAID’s are a great choice for menstrual cramps because they also have an effect on prostaglandins which contributes to menstrual cramps.
    • NSAID’s can cause bleeding in the stomach so be sure to stop if you develop abdominal pain or signs of blood in stool (black tarry stool) or vomiting blood. 
    • Always take NSAID’s with food to avoid stomach irritation
    • Long term use of NSAID’s can cause kidney damage.  Do not use NSAID’s if you have a history of kidney disease.  (It is ok to use NSAID’s with a history of kidney stones).
    • Always use the lowest dose necessary to make the pain tolerable.  Don’t take 2 pills when 1 will do.


Topical menthol pain relievers such as BioFreeze, Bengay, and Icy Hot may be applied to intact skin to relieve underlying muscle soreness.