U.S. News and World Report has collaborated with Pharmacy Times for the 25th year in a row to produce the OTC Guide, an annual list of recommended over-the-counter medications to treat various illnesses and ailments.
The guide provides recommendations for more than 1,000 brands across over 130 product categories based on advice from thousands of pharmacists nationwide.
The full list of best products is available online.
Maybe the most important product in everyone's medicine cabinets during the coronavirus pandemic, hand sanitizer had its moment in the sun this year. The OTC Guide said that the winning item from this group was Purell's hand sanitizing product, praising the brand's high alcohol content.
Good old-fashioned soap and water was also important, since proper hand hygiene is one of the most effective deterrents against infectious diseases. The guide praised an antibacterial soap produced by Hibiclens. Initially designed for use in hospitals, the soap is now available for home use, begins working on contact with skin, and offers protection for up to 24 hours.
To reduce acid and symptoms of heartburn, the guide recommends Pepcid, a histamine blocker that starts working in under an hour and can last for up to 12 hours. Other heartburn treatments, like antacids, are more short-acting, and proton pump inhibitors can take days to reach full effect, making Pepcid the best of both worlds.
For headaches, the OTC Guide recommends Tylenol, which uses acetaminophen to treat minor aches and pains, including fevers. The medication has been in use since the 1950s and has "provided ... a lot of experience with the active ingredients and a lot of confidence in its safety and efficacy."
The report also recommends Children's Tylenol for younger kids, since it's just as safe and versatile.
While the medication is effective and can be used in combination with other drugs, the guide recommends that people not consume more than advised. Consumers should also check that they are not taking multiple medications containing acetaminophen. When it comes to dosing children, it's important to review instructions, since the amount that children should take is based on weight. Consult a doctor before giving Tylenol to children under the age of 2.
If you're experiencing seasonal or perennial allergies, the OTC Guide recommends Claritin, an allergy medication that is considered non-sedating. Since it won't make you drowsy, it's a "good option" for daytime symptom relief.
The guide also recommends children's Claritin for younger people with allergies. When sold to children, the product is available as both chewable tablets and as a syrup. Parents should follow dosing directions closely, and consult a doctor before giving medication to a child under the age of 2.
Summer weather means bug bites. If you find yourself dealing with bee stings, mosquito bites or other minor injuries, the OTC Guide recommends After Bite, which uses baking soda and ammonia for instant relief. The convenient, easy-to-use product can easily be kept in an outdoor bag or picnic basket.
Consumers should be aware that After Bite does not replace epinephrine, which might be necessary in the case of an anaphylactic reaction. If severe symptoms like throat swelling or trouble breathing occur, users should immediately seek medical attention.
Cough, cold, flu and sore throat
These minor ailments can be the bane of anyone's existence, especially during cold and flu season.
To treat cold and flu symptoms, the guide recommends Theraflu products. The brand has multiple options, available in a variety of forms, including as a pill, a syrup or in powder for mixing in liquid. Some of the products may induce drowsiness, so be sure you're taking them at the right time of the day, and many products by the brand include acetaminophen, so be careful when using it with other medications like Tylenol.
To suppress coughs, try Cepacol lozenges. These medications are a good option to treat a sore throat, and contain benzocaine, a mild anesthetic that numbs the throat and relieves pain. Some versions of the product also include dextromethorphan for direct cough suppressant support.
For children, the OTC guide recommends using Dimetapp to treat coughs and colds. Available in a variety of flavors and formulations, the product helps with congestion, coughs, aches and pains. Be sure to closely follow any dosing instructions when giving the medication to children.
For a sore throat, try Zarbee's Naturals, a brand that offers cough syrups, lozenges and sprays. The products include natural ingredients like marshmallow root extract, honey and elderberry, making them a great alternative for parents that are looking for natural options.