The Oral Route

If a doctor prescribes a drug, there is often a topical or oral option. Oral medications like tablets, liquids, and gelcaps are the most common route to administer medicines. On average, Americans take 4 prescription pills each day, and there are many over-the-counter options for minor aches and pains. When someone takes a drug orally, the medicine becomes active in the bloodstream. The medication works only after passing through the gastrointestinal tract and the liver. The effect is typically systemic, although there are also a few oral drugs that act locally.


Through the skin

On the other hand, topical medications are best for local absorption since the ointment is applied directly to a particular skin area. Interestingly, some can affect the whole body once absorbed through the skin. Topical medications come in the form of creams, ointments, lotions, gels, foams, patches, powders, and pastes. These treat pain or other concerns in specific parts of the body. Dermatologists commonly use topical medications to treat mild to severe skin conditions.

The 3 classes of drugs

Not all drugs have topical forms and vice versa. Based on the situation, patients may not have the option to choose one over another. There are other factors involved like allergies, availability of medications, age, and effectiveness. Nonetheless, a good starting point would be to know the 3 classes of drugs administered orally or topically. These classes will help determine which works best in the desired situation.

Try some anti-inflammatory medication.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs are a typical class of drug that has both topical and oral options. NSAIDs treat various conditions such as muscle pain, arthritic conditions, migraines, and even acute trauma cases. About 30 million Americans take pain relief drugs each day. NSAIDs are most commonly available as oral tablets. However, long-term use of oral NSAIDs can cause adverse effects on the body. These include the increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, gastrointestinal irritation, and bleeding. This is why topical NSAIDs are slowly becoming more popular and accepted. Topical NSAIDs are as effective as oral ones without causing severe side effects.

Fight bacteria with antibiotics

Antibacterial medications are commonly administered orally, but there are also topical ones, especially for skin infections. Most oral antibiotics may only be bought if the person has a prescription from a doctor, while some antibiotic creams and ointments are available over the counter. However, certain types of antibiotics may only treat certain types of bacteria. This is why patients should consult with a healthcare provider to evaluate symptoms of a bacterial infection properly. Although antibiotics are powerful medications, take oral medications only in bacterial infections to avoid antibiotic resistance.

Clear up your fungus with antifungal medications

Unlike the previous two, antifungal medications or antimycotic medications are more commonly provided topically. Most of these are still prescription drugs, yet there are a few that are available over-the-counter. Antifungal medications are used to treat and prevent fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, and yeast infection.

Which works better?

Choosing a topical or oral medication depends on the situation. Each can be designed in increasing dosages. Oral medications are the best choice for severe conditions and long-term pain. Topical medications work best for skin conditions and quick treatment for joint pain. Describe the pain to the doctor, and the best options will be made available. Instead of recommending one route over the other, here are some tips and reminders when taking an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, or antifungal drugs.

How to use topical and oral medications

Generally, topical drugs should not be used at the same time as oral ones unless prescribed by your doctor. If oral NSAIDs are ineffective in relieving the pain, try a topical option. Topical NSAIDs are also more recommended for long-term use. With antibiotics, consult a doctor before using to avoid developing antibiotic resistance or allergic reactions. Mild cases of fungal infection, such as athlete’s foot, may be treated with over-the-counter antifungal topical medications. However, if symptoms don’t improve over time, speak with a doctor immediately.

Use what’s best for you

With both oral and topical medications, the goal is to give relief as quickly as possible. A doctor or pharmacist will recommend the best for the condition. For quicker relief, particularly for a skin issue, try a topical medication. For long-term relief, oral medications may work better. There are cases where a patient may have allergies or is unable to take oral medication. When that happens, speak with a pharmacist about compounding a topical solution.


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