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Because we can buy drugs over the counter, we tend to assume they are safe. However, any drug taken to excess may not be. Furthermore, over the counter (OTC) drugs differ from country to country - either their active ingredients may differ, or their inactive ingredients (which could cause problems if you are allergic to any). There are drugs available in the United States that are not available here, and vice versa. If you are travelling, and find yourself ailing, you visit a chemist/pharmacy. However, you should be informed – remember, drug preparations, and indeed, the laws governing OTC medications differ from country to country.
This was written as a guide for Americans visiting the UK. However, the information works both ways – be safe by being aware of what you are taking.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ DISCLAIMER ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I am not a Doctor nor am I medical professional. My intention is NOT to endorse or recommend any particular treatment. This is simply a short guide to the differences between non-prescription medicines in the US and the UK. If you have any doubts or questions about any medicine or complaint, talk to your Doctor, Pharmacist or other health professional.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ INTRODUCTION ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, a short introduction is in order. Some OTC medicines available in the US are either not available in the UK, or have a different name. Needless to say, the same holds true in reverse. Therefore, ever the considerate ex-pat, I thought I would write a little guide to the MAIN differences.
Many stronger preparations require you to actually go to the counter and request the drug from the Chemist (pharmacist). These are pointed out below, but include large packages of painkillers, many cough preparations, children's painkillers, lice preparations, and many upset stomach remedies (of the stronger variety). When you ask the Chemist for your drug, he or she will usually confirm with you that you are not taking anything that could interact, and that you don't have any conditions that are contraindicated.
**** Disclaimer part 2**** - although the OTCs are similar in both countries, most are MUCH cheaper in the States (especially vitamins). Therefore, if you are only visiting the UK for a short time, I would say bring your own basics.
**** Disclaimer part 3**** I am doing the best I can with the spelling of the generic names. If I get it wrong, please bear with me!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Have a headache? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Looking for Tylenol? You won't find it. Nor will you find a label with its generic name (acetaminophen) If you want a painkiller that is NOT a NSAI (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory), ask for paracetemol. You can get small quantities from the shelves of your local Chemist (Pharmacy), but for larger quantities you need to ask the Chemist (Pharmacist). This is because an overdose can cause irreparable liver damage which can kill. Therefore, be careful if you are taking paracetemol along with any general cold remedies, as many contain that drug. AND EQUALLY IMPORTANT – If you are taking either drug, don’t take the other – I understand they are essentially the same. Your headache won’t get better after taking paracetemol and Tylenol together – but your liver will fail.
Generally, if you want a children's suspension syrup, you must also ask for it at the counter (Calpol is a common brand). I have not seen chewable tablets in this country for children, which is a shame, since I find them easier and less messy than the liquids for my 10 year old daughter.
Advil and Nurofen are brand names for Ibuprofen, - both are available over the counter, but again, you must ask the pharmacist for it. However, I don't know if it'll help your headache - once you see the price. Ouch. I tend to buy it from CVS when I'm visiting the States.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ REALLY bad pain? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The American health professionals among you may find this surprising - codeine is available over the counter. It is usually in combination with either Ibuprofrin or Paracetomal. Not so surprisingly, again, you need to actually ask the pharmacist for it, you won't find it in the supermarket or on the shelves of your local Boots.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Cough cough cough... ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The British, in my experience, seem to love expectorants. I have all SORTS of problems finding suppressants. When you ask the Chemist for a cough medicine, you are quizzed as to the type of cough you have (dry or productive), and either given a 'soother' (lemon and honey type stuff) or an expectorant. I have successfully received a suppressant, but I had to ask specifically and insist. I have never seen Dextromethorfin (OK, my spelling is appalling, and I've tried unsuccessfully to look it up) in this country.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A Short List of medicines you can get in both countries ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Many preparations for stomach complaints seem to be the same - but if in doubt, read the ingredients. These include Milk of Magnesia (tm) and Pepto-Bismol (tm).
Sudafed is also available here in several combinations - alone and for 'colds' (so include pain killers, for example – again, read the ingredients – if it contains paracetemol, don’t then take headache tablets as well!).
Please, though, let me stress that just because the packaging looks similar, it doesn't mean that the ingredients are identical. There are different licensing laws in different countries, and I would suspect also that many of the inactive ingredients might differ. If you have any worries or specific allergies, ask your doctor or the chemist for advice.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Nearly Done! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I have chosen to focus on painkillers and cough and cold medicines since these are the ones many of us (including myself) use most often. Because I use these most often, these are the ones with which I am familiar. I'm sure that this list could go on much longer.
I cannot stress enough that I am not a Doctor, and that this essay is for guidance only. Nevertheless, I do hope you have found this useful - if you have any comments (especially from the Doctors out there), or feel this should be amended, please let me know.
PS - please ignore the ratings below. Easy to Install...huh???