Over-The-Counter Medication Labels: Read It
Medications you can buy without a prescription or seeing a medical provider are commonly referred to as over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Now consider the vast number of OTC medications that are in the U.S. market. Knowing which one to take can be mind boggling. To help simplify this process, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set guidelines for what information is to be printed on OTC medication labels. This information, which is listed in the same format on each medication label, is easy to read and understand.
· Active ingredient: The medication’s main ingredient and the amount in each dosage unit, such as per teaspoon or tablet
· Purpose: Medication action or category, such as an antihistamine or fever reducer
· Uses: Lists the symptoms or diseases the medication will treat or prevent
· Warnings: Tells you when the medication should not be used under any circumstances, and when it is appropriate to consult with a medical provider or pharmacist. This section also describes side effects that could occur, substances and activities to avoid, and/or pregnancy and breastfeeding instructions
· Directions: Lists the instructions for specific age categories, how much to take, how to take it, how often to take it, and for how long
· Inactive ingredients: Inactive ingredients are added to make the medication easier to swallow, affect the absorption time and breakdown of the medication, or give it a pleasant taste and color
· Other: This area may include the expiration date, lot or batch code, manufacturer, how much of the product is in each package, and/or what to do if an overdose occurs
It is very important to read the label before taking any medication and to follow the directions exactly. The medication label tells you what a medicine is supposed to do, who should or should not take it, and how to use it. But efforts to provide good labeling won't help unless you read and use the information. It's up to you to be informed and to use OTC medications wisely and responsibly. If you read the label and still have questions, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist for advice.
To learn more about medications and your pharmacy, pick up a copy of my book, The Practical Patient.