Prescribing of over the counter medicines is changing




Self-care is about keeping fit and healthy, understanding when you can look after yourself, when a pharmacist can help, and when to get advice from your GP or another health professional.


How your local pharmacy team can help

How your local pharmacy team can help you

Your local pharmacy team are qualified healthcare professionals with the knowledge and skills to help with many health concerns.

Pharmacists can give clinical advice, right there and then, and help you choose the most appropriate treatment. If your symptoms suggest it’s more serious, they’ll ensure you get the care you need.

Community pharmacies stock over the counter products for many short term, minor illnesses and conditions, including:

  • Cough and cold remedies
  • Painkillers (such as paracetamol)
  • Anti-inflammatories (such as ibuprofen)
  • Skin creams and washes
  • Antifungal treatments
  • Treatment for bites and stings
  • Diarrhoea treatments
  • Hay fever treatments, including tablets and nasal sprays
  • Indigestion remedies
  • Laxatives
  • Sore throat sprays and lozenges

GPs, nurses and pharmacists will not generally give you a prescription for over-the-counter medicines.

You can buy over the counter medicines for any of these conditions:

  • acute sore throat
  • minor burns and scalds
  • conjunctivitis
  • mild cystitis
  • coughs, colds and nasal congestion
  • mild dry skin
  • cradle cap
  • mild irritant dermatitis
  • dandruff
  • mild to moderate hay fever
  • diarrhoea (adults)
  • dry eyes and sore tired eyes
  • mouth ulcers
  • earwax
  • nappy rash
  • excessive sweating
  • infant colic
  • sunburn
  • infrequent cold sores of the lip
  • sun protection
  • infrequent constipation
  • teething or mild toothache
  • infrequent migraine
  • threadworms
  • insect bites and stings
  • travel sickness
  • mild acne
  • warts and verrucas
  • haemorrhoids (piles)
  • oral thrush
  • head lice
  • prevention of tooth decay
  • indigestion and heartburn
  • ringworm or athlete's foot
  • minor pain, discomfort and fever (such as aches and sprains, headache, period pain, and back pain)

For information on how these conditions are treated, look up your condition in the health A to Z.


What can you do?

Keeping a few useful medicines at home means you can treat common conditions immediately without needing to see a healthcare professional.

These could include:

  • Painkillers to help with pain, discomfort and fever
  • Indigestion medicines, oral rehydration salts and treatments for constipation and diarrhoea
  • Treatments for seasonal conditions like colds and hay fever
  • Sunblock and after sun
  • Basic first aid items (for example plasters or antiseptic cream)

If you have children, make sure you also have products suitable for them. Speak to your local pharmacy team about what medicines to keep at home, where to store them safely and how to use them.

Please help the NHS to use resources sensibly. This is in line with national guidance from NHS England: Why can't I get a prescription for an over the counter medicine?

Published: Nov 27, 2023