The Food and Drug Administration approved three drugs on Friday to switch from prescription status to being available over the counter: GlaxoSmithKline's (NYSE:GSK) Voltaren Arthritis Pain and two related allergy drugs from Alcon (NYSE:ALC)

The switch, which is typically initiated by the manufacturer, will likely come with a lower cost for the medications, but the companies hope to make up for it with higher volume since patients can walk into a pharmacy and get the medications off the shelf without seeing a doctor. Over the years, many pain, allergy, and heartburn drugs have made the switch after the FDA became more comfortable with their safety.

Pharmacy shelves

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GlaxoSmithKline's Voltaren Arthritis Pain was originally approved as a prescription drug in 2007 to relieve pain for patients with osteoarthritis. The drug is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in the same class as ibuprofen, although it's a topical formulation applied to achy joints. The drug will remain approved for osteoarthritis but not for strains, sprains, and bruises that other NSAIDs are used to treat.

Alcon persuaded the FDA to switch two eye-drop medications that treat itching and red eyes due to allergies. Patanol, which was originally approved in 1996, will now be called Pataday Twice Daily Relief, while Pataday, which was approved in 2004, will now be called Pataday Once Daily Relief. The drugs have the same active ingredient, the antihistamine olopatadine, but the once-a-day formation is a higher strength than the twice-daily formulation.