You've had a hard day at school. You come home and finish your homework. Maybe you watch a little television. But your head is hurting and you just can't get it to stop. You tell an adult about your headache and soon you're taking a pill from a bottle in the medicine cabinet. Before long, your headache goes away!
Then there are those other days that you wake up not feeling well at all. You're hot and sweaty and your head feels like it's on fire. You also have a sore throat and a cough. You tell an adult how you feel and, before you know what hit you, you're staying home from school and going to see the doctor.
As it turns out, you have a bacterial infection causing your symptoms. You head to the pharmacy to get some special medicine called an antibiotic prescribed by the doctor. Within a few days of taking the medicine, you're back on your feet and feeling better again.
We're sure these situations sound familiar to most of you. We all have experience with feeling not-so-great and taking medicine to feel better. But have you ever stopped to WONDER why some medicines you can buy in the store and others have to be ordered by a doctor?
You may see the abbreviation “Rx" on the doctor's prescription and on the label of the bottle of medicine. “Rx" is short for “prescription," because it comes from the Latin word for “recipe." This makes sense since the doctor's prescription is like a recipe: it tells the pharmacist what medicine to give you to make you feel better!
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can be bought in stores without a doctor's prescription. They're usually medicines intended to treat relatively-minor ailments, such as coughs (cough medicine), upset stomachs (antacid), or headaches (aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen).
Prescription medicines, on the other hand, are generally intended to treat more major or serious medical problems, like diabetes or cancer. Prescription medicines also tend to be stronger than OTC drugs. To ensure that they're used safely, certain medicines are approved only with a prescription, so that one can be sure a doctor has been consulted about using the medicine.
OTC drugs have often been used safely and effectively for many years. Prescription drugs are often newer and may still be protected by patents that prevent other companies from copying them. This means that prescription drugs tend to be more expensive than OTC drugs, too.