Over the counter medicines

You can buy over the counter medicines to treat many common illnesses, ailments and conditions. For these minor illnesses, you can get the same advice from the pharmacist that you would get from your GP.

Pharmacists are trained to help you treat and manage minor illnesses. You don't need to make an appointment, you can just go to the pharmacy and ask for help. If your pharmacist thinks you need to see a doctor, they will tell you if you need to see your GP, walk-in-clinic or A&E.

Common medicines to keep

You should keep some common medicines at home in a safe place. You can use them to treat minor illnesses at home, without having to book an appointment with your GP.

Some of these medicines are:

  • painkillers to treat mild pain, discomfort and fever
  • medicines to treat indigestion, diarrhoea and constipation
  • medicines to treat colds and hayfever
  • sunblock and aftersun lotions
  • basic first aid items like plasters or antiseptic cream

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

Resources for people with babies and young children: 

  • HANDi Paediatric app gives up-to-date advice about common childhood illnesses and how to treat them

Conditions you can treat at home

Your GP, nurse or pharmacist will not generally give you a prescription for certain medicines that are available to buy in a pharmacy or supermarket, even if you qualify for free prescriptions.

You can treat these conditions at home with advice and over the counter medicinces from your pharmacist:

  • Acute sore throat
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Coughs, colds and nasal congestion
  • Cradle cap
  • Dandruff
  • Diarrhoea in adults
  • Dry or sore eyes
  • Earwax
  • Excessive sweating
  • Haemorrhoids (piles)
  • Head lice
  • Indigestion or heartburn
  • Infant colic
  • Infrequent cold sores of the lip
  • Infrequent constipation
  • Infrequent migraines
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Mild acne
  • Minor burns and scalds
  • Mild cystitis
  • Mild dry skin
  • Mild irritant dermatitis
  • Mild to moderate hayfever
  • Minor pain, discomfort and fever such as aches and sparins, headache, period pain and back ache
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Nappy rash
  • Oral trush
  • Prevention of tooth decay
  • Ringworm or athletes foot
  • Sunburn and sun protection
  • Teething or mild tooth ache
  • Threadworms
  • Travel sickness
  • Warts and verrucae

If your symptoms don't improve

Your pharmacist can tell you how long to expect the symptoms of your conditions to last. If they haven't improved after this time or you start to feel a lot worse, you should:

  • go back to the pharmacy for further advice
  • call NHS 111
  • contact your GP

Visit find services near you to help you choose the right service. A&E and 999 should only be used for serious and life-threatening emergencies.


You may still be prescribed an over the counter medicine if:

  • You need treatment for a long-term condition, for example, regular pain relief for chronic arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease
  • You need treatment for more complex forms of minor illnesses such as migraines that are very bad and where over the counter medicines do not work
  • You need an over the counter medicine to treat a side effect of a prescription medicine or symptom of another illness like constipation when taking certain painkillers
  • The medicine has a licence which doesn’t allow the product to be sold over the counter to certain groups of patients. This could include babies, children or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding
  • The person prescribing thinks that a patient cannot treat themselves, for example because of mental health problems or severe social vulnerability