"The labels on all OTC drugs
have a standard format, and it is fairly easy
to tell if two drugs are the same," he says.
In 2002, the FDA introduced a standardized
label, which you can find an example of on
the FDA site. When you compare medications
across brands, focus on the drug's active ingredients
as well as the amount in each dosage unit, which
will tell you if two medications are identical.
labels on all OTC drugs have a standard format
and it is fairly easy to tell if two drugs are
For example, two medications that
contain 500 milligrams of acetaminophen, a pain
reliever, are identical and should produce the
same result in terms of relieving pain.
If you're confused by the labels, bring your questions to the store pharmacist, who "will be happy to step out from behind the counter and show you which medicines are comparable and will be the most helpful given your needs," says Karbowicz.
Pharmacists can also help you pinpoint which medications will be the best for you given your particular symptoms, Jenkins says, and can also counsel you about potential interactions between your OTC and prescription drugs.
A drug's packaging doesn't make a difference in terms of its effectiveness, but is a matter of preference for the individual consumer, who may prefer gel-caps over tablets or redi-tabs over caplets.
"Gel-caps may be easier for you to swallow, but the form really doesn't make a difference in terms of how fast a pill will work or in terms of how it works," says Karbowicz.
Where to shop
Unlike prescription drugs, where online outlets
have exerted downward pricing pressures on all
retailers, shopping for OTC drugs is best done
in person in a local pharmacy, grocery store or
big-box store such as Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target
or even a warehouse stores such as Costco or Sam's
Club, says Findlay.
You can shop for OTC drugs online,
but any cost savings are likely to be small even
when buying off-brand medications, given the difficulty
in comparing medications online and extra shipping
For some products, there are several different off-brand versions, including a store version -- like Rite Aid or CVS brands -- and a more "generic" off-brand version, Findlay notes. The store brand may receive product placement next to the brand name, while the more obscure "generic" off-brand may be on a lower shelf.