Pills…Liquids…Creams… Which Medicine Formulation Is Right For You?

Pills…Liquids…Creams… Which Medicine Formulation Is Right For You

Many would agree that one of the worst parts of having to take medicine is…actually taking the medicine. From “horse” pills to sweet flavored syrups to pain-relieving ointments, there are many options for treating your ailments. Not only is having more than one way to take medicine a great marketing strategy but also is beneficial in some other significant ways. Continue reading to learn more about medicine formulation…

What Is Drug Formulation?

A drug formulation is the result of a process where an active ingredient is mixed with inactive ingredients to make a product. This product comes in various forms; we will review the most common forms you’ll see over the counter. Each formulation has its benefits and differs in how fast the drug will work based on the form it is in and how it is taken.

After trying more holistic and natural remedies to treat your ailments you may find yourself in a whirlwind of options in the OTC aisle. Greeted by one type of medicine in several different formulations, it can be overwhelming to choose the best one for you, so let’s go over the options. 


Pills…Liquids…Creams… Which Medicine Formulation Is Right For You

Liquid medications are absorbed faster by the body because they do not need to be broken down the way pills do. So if you need fast relief and can down an awkwardly flavored liquid (orange flavors are typically the least insulting), this option is great. Liquids are easily digested and are especially good for children and those who may have trouble swallowing solids.

Sublingual & Dissolvable

Pills…Liquids…Creams… Which Medicine Formulation Is Right For You

Sublingual forms are rapidly absorbed under the tongue and the effect is fairly quick, faster than a pill form like a regular tablet. Dissolvable, or orally disintegrating forms also dissolve in the mouth and also have a fairly rapid effect. Although technically different from one another, both forms are beneficial when you need a quick effect or have an issue like nausea or vomiting that interferes with the effect of a solid formulation that must be swallowed.

Pills (Tablet/Capsule)

When we think of medicine the most common form is a pill. Pills are taken by mouth and are effective after being broken down by the body first and then available to utilize its medicinal effect. This can take anywhere from minutes to hours and even days; the effect, however, is not as immediate as the previously mentioned liquid, sublingual, and dissolvable forms. In addition, there are various forms of tablets and capsules to accommodate unwanted issues. For example:

  • Enteric-coated tablets- contain a special coating that prevents the medication from upsetting your stomach before it is able to perform its effect.
  • Delayed-release capsules- made to release medication over an extended period of time so that the effect of the medication lasts longer without you having to take multiple doses throughout the day.
Pills…Liquids…Creams… Which Medicine Formulation Is Right For You


Think of medicines that you physically apply to your body. Once applied topically, medicines still have to be absorbed through the site of application. This can take minutes to hours and continue being absorbed by the body over time until it wears off. The systemic effect of topical forms is lower than with other forms, making it ideal for avoiding unwanted systemic side effects; however, skin reactions are possible and can be a significant barrier for use.

There are a variety of topical forms of medications, not limited to:
  • Ointments/creams/gels/pastes
    • Topical forms that are rubbed on and absorbed have to be reapplied to continue experiencing its effects.
  • Inhalers
    • Medications that are inhaled are rapidly absorbed through the lungs. This is particularly efficient with respiratory (breathing) conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and COPD. The response from inhalation is generally immediate and highly effective because it bypasses the need for the body having to break down and use the drug. Inhaled forms also typically require a less amount of overall active ingredient to have an effect.
  • Nasal sprays
  • Eye/ear drops
    • Applied directly, these forms treat the issue locally in the ear or eye.  
  • Patches
    • Patches are also included in the topical category, however, the duration of its effect typically lasts as long as it is applied to your body.
  • Suppositories (rectal)
    • Although this may not be your first choice when taking medication, rectal (in your bottom) forms are super effective and rapidly absorbed by the body. Rectal administration is particularly beneficial when other routes are not possible- unable to swallow, nausea, and vomiting. The disadvantage is that the effect is somewhat unpredictable, and administration involved in placing something in your nether regions can be thoroughly uncomfortable. Some different products administered rectally are suppositories and enemas for constipation. Even Tylenol comes in a rectal formulation to help reduce fevers.

If you are tired of making the infamous head-tilt required to take a pill, explore the aforementioned options for over the counter treatment. You may discover an easier and more effective treatment option. If ever in doubt, your pharmacist is always available to answer any questions you may have.

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