No migraine medication, OTC or prescription is going to work for all people or all migraine symptoms. But fortunately, many drugs are designed to reduce your migraine pain or make it go away faster. Let’s take a look at your best OTC migraine medicine options.
List of Migraine Medication OTC
Here are some active ingredients to learn more about before your next migraine headache hits. Before you try any over-the-counter migraine treatment, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your condition and the drugs you’re considering.
According to research, taking ibuprofen during a migraine may provide some pain relief for about half of users, but few people can get rid of a migraine altogether by taking ibuprofen.
As a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), ibuprofen works by suppressing cyclooxygenase (COX) 1 and 2. These enzymes promote pain and swelling by contributing to the formation of prostaglandins, which are hormones that play a key role in inflammation.
For a migraine, your health care professional may recommend taking 400 mg of ibuprofen. Up to 800 mg could be used, depending on your situation.
There is also some evidence that aspirin may be useful in helping to prevent migraines, at daily doses of 81 to 325 mg. However, anyone considering a daily aspirin regimen should speak to their doctor first.
It’s also an NSAID, so it works in a similar fashion to ibuprofen.
For acute migraine pain, up to 1,000 mg of aspirin can be taken. This dosage has been found to be about as effective as the prescription medication sumatriptan, which is sold under select brand names.
Like ibuprofen and aspirin, naproxen sodium is an NSAID. However, if you’re looking to get rid of your headache with naproxen, you’ll have to wait a little bit longer – it has a slower release time than ibuprofen.
Naproxen’s typical dosage for an acute migraine is 500 mg, but in some cases, up to 825 mg could be appropriate. But in 2020, a review of naproxen for migraine found that other OTC pain relievers brought better migraine relief.
For the best results with naproxen, you might consider taking it in combination with other drugs, such as prescription sumatriptan. Doing so has been shown more effective against migraine than either drug by itself.
Acetaminophen has been found less effective than other OTC drugs for migraine, especially severe migraine. But since it’s not an NSAID, it may be better tolerated by those who have trouble with NSAID drugs.
If you don’t tolerate NSAIDs well, acetaminophen might be worth trying first. The recommended dosage for a migraine attack is 1,000 mg. Be careful not to overdo it, as excessive amounts are known to cause liver damage.
You probably knew that some popular OTC migraine medicines contain caffeine.
In fact, the well-known headache pain reliever, Excedrin® Migraine, combines caffeine with aspirin and acetaminophen. Some people find this combination more helpful than taking any of these drugs alone. But why?
When you have a headache, there is increased blood flow in your brain. As you can imagine, this increase in blood flow can dilate blood vessels and increase your discomfort. Caffeine is known to constrict blood vessels, which may reduce blood flow and help you feel better. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which could help aspirin and acetaminophen work better.
Some studies have found the OTC “migraine cocktail” of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine more effective against migraine pain than ibuprofen or sumatriptan alone.
Are Brand Name OTC Medications Better Than Generics?
You can usually save a few bucks by buying the generic or store brand equivalents of brand name OTC drugs. Some people feel loyal to certain brands or pay more attention to advertising, but what’s important is the active ingredients.
If you compare generic naproxen sodium to Aleve®, for example, you’ll see the same active ingredient and probably a significant price difference. From brand to brand, there may be variations in the amount of the active ingredient per tablet, so pay attention to the directions to make sure you don’t take too much.
Here’s a quick reference list of popular brand names and the active ingredients you’ll probably find under a generic label.
- Aleve® — naproxen sodium, 220mg
- Advil® — ibuprofen 200mg
- Bayer® aspirin — enteric-coated aspirin 325mg
- Excedrin® Migraine — aspirin 250mg, acetaminophen 250mg, caffeine 65mg
- Excedrin® Tension Headache — acetaminophen 500mg, caffeine 65mg
- Motrin® IB — ibuprofen 200mg
- Tylenol® Regular Strength — acetaminophen 325mg
- Tylenol® Extra Strength — acetaminophen 500mg
Important Things to Consider
Not every over-the-counter migraine medication is right for you. All migraine drugs have risks, so you should approach your search for the right one with caution. Here are a few tips:
Read Labels Carefully
Thoroughly read the packaging before you buy. Make sure you’re comfortable with the warnings, ingredients, and dosage.
Know Your Ingredients
Educate yourself on active ingredients and speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking anything, especially when considering a medication with more than one active ingredient.
Beware of Overuse
Medication overuse can cause headaches on its own. A general rule is to avoid using OTC medications more than two days a week for an extended period, especially if they contain caffeine.
Don’t Wing It on Concoctions
Consult a doctor or pharmacist before combining medications of the same type (i.e. NSAIDs like ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen).
If you do your homework and don’t overuse OTC migraine medications, they may be a big help to you. But in rare cases, they could lead to other problems or even worsen your migraine symptoms. To be on the safe side, talk to your doctor about any drug before taking it, because even the best OTC migraine medication could have side effects.
Non-OTC Migraine Medications
You may not always take migraine medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription. Maybe you’ve been dissatisfied with their results. Or, maybe you’d rather focus on migraine prevention to reduce your reliance on pain relievers.
Fortunately, there are other ways you could reduce or manage your migraine attacks with or without OTC medications.
Fight Light-Triggered Migraines With Axon Optics
Study shows that over 90% of migraine sufferers are light sensitive. Certain types of light may either trigger a migraine for them, or make them feel worse during an attack.
For these people, our precisely-tinted lenses are an effective preventative treatment. They’re designed to filter out the types of light most likely to trigger a migraine or exacerbate migraine symptoms. The lenses come in both indoor and outdoor versions, and can even be made in your vision prescription.
85% of Axon Optics users report reduced light sensitivity symptoms, including migraine. We offer a 60-day guarantee, so you can find out if they’ll work for you without risking anything.