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Reading OTC Labels

There is never guesswork about correct dosing with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines because every OTC medication has dosing instructions right on its label. The OTC label, known as the Drug Facts label, has specific instructions for safe use and should be followed precisely. Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the directions tell you what amount of medicine to take, how to take it, when to take it, and when not to take it. If a label does not list dosing amounts for the person taking the medicine, call a doctor for advice on the best treatment options.

OTCsafety.org offers an interactive Drug Facts label to help you better understand and follow the directions on the label. Scroll over the different sections to learn more about the various sections on the label

The information on the Drug Facts label is always listed in the same order. Each section provides valuable information, so be sure to always read every section carefully before taking or giving a medicine. If you have any questions, check with a doctor or another healthcare professional.

Active Ingredients

This section lists the ingredient or ingredients that make the product work. It is especially important to pay attention to this section if you are taking more than one medicine—whether OTC or prescription—to make sure you are not taking too much of the same active ingredient. Too much of an active ingredient can be harmful.

Purpose

This section tells you what treatment type—or category—of medicine the product is, such as an antacid or antihistamine.

Uses

The uses section explains the symptoms or illnesses for which the product should be used. Only use products that treat the symptom(s) you have. If you need help choosing a product, ask your pharmacist or other healthcare professional.

Warnings

There are times you should not take a medicine. The warnings section explains these situations, and also tells you when a doctor or other healthcare professional needs to be consulted, possible side effects, and when to stop taking a product. If in doubt, talk to a doctor or pharmacist.

Directions

This section tells you exactly how and when to take a medicine. Remember that these directions are not suggestions or recommendations; they should be followed exactly, except under a doctor’s specific advice, because taking more of a medicine or for longer than labeled can be dangerous.

Other Information

This section contains information about how to store the product and additional information that is required by the FDA about certain ingredients, such as the amount of calcium, potassium, or sodium a product contains.

Inactive Ingredients

The inactive ingredients section also includes important information, especially if you or a loved one has a known allergy.

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