Before taking any medication it is very important to read the label. Medication labels contain important information to help you take your medication correctly and prevent drug interactions and other drug-related problems. If you do not read a medication label, you may make mistakes in taking the medication and cause serious health related consequences.
Labels for Over-The-Counter (OTC) medications have detailed information to assist in their proper use without the advice of a health care professional. However, over-the-counter medications are not without risks. The use of these medications is relatively safe only when the proper dosage is followed.
Reading labels carefully before purchasing an OTC medication is important, especially if you have a special health problem or are on a special diet. Some examples include:
- If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you should not take decongestants unless prescribed by a doctor. By reading the label, or asking your pharmacist, you can determine if an OTC cold medication is safe for you.
- If you have high blood pressure, or are on a low sodium or salt-free diet, you should avoid products containing sodium bicarbonate (a common antacid) or other forms of sodium. Labels provide ingredient information and may indicate whether a product is considered “salt-free” or low in sodium.
Before you purchase an OTC medication consider the following:
Is the drug meant to be used in the way you plan to use it?
Will it help to relieve the symptoms that you have?
Is there anything in the product you should avoid?
- Are you allergic to any of the ingredients?
- Are you sensitive to any ingredients because of a chronic health problem?
- If you are on a low-salt diet, what is the sodium content?
- If you are on a low-sugar diet, what is the sugar content?
- What are the limits on taking this medication, if any?
- Who should not take the medication?
- Are you currently taking any medication that may interact with this medication?
- Are there any foods or beverages you should avoid while taking the medication?
- Are there any circumstances under which a person should see a doctor before taking the medication?
- What symptoms are listed that serve as warnings to stop taking the medication?
- When should a doctor be consulted if symptoms persist?
- What is the appropriate dose?
- How often should this medication be taken?
- In what manner should the medication be taken?
- Are there any activities to avoid while taking the medication (e.g., driving, drinking alcoholic beverages, or being exposed to sunlight). Can you follow these cautions?
- What should you do in the case of an accidental overdose?
What are possible side effects?
When does the medication expire? (Be sure to discard, and do not take, any medication after its expiration date.)
Over-the-counter drug labels provide helpful information for the safe and effective use of various medications. However, it is important to read over-the-counter medication labels and follow directions carefully.