Best OTC Migraine Medications: Tips & Guidance

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Best OTC Migraine Medications: Tips & Guidance

If you had it your way, you’d prevent migraines 100% of the time, but it doesn’t always happen that way. When you do get one, all you want to do is get rid of it, NOW. 

No migraine medication, OTC or prescription is going to work for everyone, or every migraine. But fortunately, many drugs are designed to reduce your migraine pain or make it go away faster. Let’s take a look at some of your options.

Migraine Medication OTC

Here are some of the active ingredients you might want to know more about before the next migraine hits you. Before you try any over-the-counter migraine treatment, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your condition and the drugs you’re considering.


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. 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.


Aspirin is another migraine medication available over-the-counter. 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 sumatriptan, which is sold by prescription under select brand names.

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.


You might know naproxen under its common brand name, Aleve. Like ibuprofen and aspirin, it’s an NSAID. If  you’re looking to get rid of your headache 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.


Ahhh, good ol’ dependable Tylenol. While we don’t really understand how acetaminophen works, it’s been found less effective than other OTC drugs for migraine, especially bad ones. 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.

Adding Caffeine

You probably knew that some popular OTC migraine medicines contain caffeine. In fact, the well-known headache pain reliever, Excedrin, 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 combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine more effective against migraine pain than ibuprofen or sumatriptan alone.

Other Things to Consider About OTC Migraine Medications

Not every over-the-counter migraine medication is right for you. There are risks with any medication, so you should approach your search for the right one with caution. Here are a few tips:

  • Thoroughly read the packaging before you buy; make sure you’re comfortable with the warnings, ingredients, and dosage
  • Know your active ingredients; educate yourself by speaking to your doctor or pharmacist first, especially when considering a medication with more than one active ingredient
  • 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
  • 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 conditions. To be on the safe side, talk to your doctor about any drug before you take it.

Non-OTC Migraine Medications

You may not always have to take migraine medications, over-the-counter or prescription. Maybe you’ve been dissatisfied with their results, or maybe you’d rather reduce your dependence on them. Fortunately, there are other ways you could better manage your condition, either 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. 

Axon Optics is the original pioneer and online retailer of migraine glasses. Our precisely-tinted lenses are designed to filter out the types of light most likely to trigger or exacerbate a migraine. 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.


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