Shopping For OTC Medication? 7 Key Things You Should Read On The Label

When you’re not feeling your best, reaching for an over-the-counter (OTC) medication can be a quick way to seek relief. However, it’s crucial to understand what you’re taking. While OTC medications are readily available, they’re still serious treatments and require a good understanding of their labels to use them safely and effectively.

All OTC medicines are required, by law, to have the same sections, and though the information printed on the “drug facts” label may be different for each medication, once you know what to look for, you’ll be able to read any drug facts label to get the pertinent information you need. Here are seven key pieces of information to read on any drug label.

Active Ingredients: The Core of the Medicine

At the heart of every OTC medicine is its active ingredient(s). This section, usually at the top of the label, lists the components that actually work to alleviate your symptoms. Pay close attention to the amount of each active ingredient in a dose and their purpose, like pain relief or reducing fever. For instance, ibuprofen is an active ingredient in Advil, primarily used for pain relief. Recognizing these ingredients is vital, especially if you’re using multiple medicines, to avoid accidental overdose.

ibuprofen
(Photo by Dan Dennis on Unsplash)

Uses: What the Medicine Treats

You’ll typically find the uses section below the active ingredients. This part specifies the symptoms or conditions the medicine is intended to treat. Some medicines might have a broad range of applications, like aspirin, which can be used for pain relief, fever reduction, and even as a blood thinner in certain cases. Always ensure the symptoms you’re experiencing match the uses listed on the label.

Warnings: What Could Happen by Taking the Medicine?

The warnings section is a critical part of the label, outlining potential risks, side-effects, and specific groups who should avoid the medicine (like pregnant women or individuals with certain medical conditions). This section might also include information about possible interactions with other drugs or substances, such as alcohol. Heed these warnings closely to avoid adverse effects or dangerous interactions.

Directions: How to Take the Medicine Safely

The directions section guides you on how to use the medicine properly. It will include the recommended dosage, how frequently you can take it, and any special instructions like taking the medicine with food. Adhering to these directions is crucial for the medicine to work effectively and safely.

Omeprazole - medication for heartburn or acid reflux
(© Sherry Young – stock.adobe.com)

Other Information: Important Notes You Shouldn’t Overlook

Beyond the active ingredients and usage instructions, the other information section provides additional details like storage recommendations. Storing medicine correctly is vital to maintaining its effectiveness. This section may also list non-medical ingredients like preservatives or flavorings, which are important for those with allergies or dietary restrictions.

Inactive Ingredients: What’s Hiding Beyond the Active Elements?

Inactive ingredients don’t contribute to the therapeutic effect of the medicine but serve other purposes, like binding the pill together or improving its taste. If you have allergies or sensitivities to certain substances, like lactose or gluten, pay special attention to this part of the label.

Additional Label Information: 4 Key Factors Drug Packages Tell You

Apart from the main label, there’s other information you should be aware of:

  • Expiration Date: Using medicine past its expiration date can be ineffective or unsafe.
  • Lot Number: This helps identify the specific batch of the medicine, which is useful in case of recalls.
  • Manufacturer Information: It is important to know who made the medicine and how to contact them.
  • Net Quantity: This tells you how much medicine is in the package, helping in managing supply and dosage.

Understanding OTC medicine labels is key to using these treatments safely and effectively. Don’t hesitate to ask a pharmacist or healthcare professional if you’re ever in doubt. They can provide valuable guidance and ensure that the medicine you choose suits your needs and health conditions. Remember, being informed is your first step towards a safer path to wellness.

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About the Author

Alexander Olumese, PharmD

Alexander Olumese is a DMV-based registered pharmacist and medical writer. He has over 10 years of experience with community and hospital pharmacies, as well as over 3 years within the pharmaceutical industry as a medical writer within medical affairs. He has a background in a variety of therapeutic areas. However, he specializes in cardiovascular disease, oncology, pain medicine, and infectious disease.

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