All over-the-counter (OTC) medicines must list the medicinal ingredients (also known as active ingredients) and provide their basic information. This information is found in key spots on the box or bottle label.
Using the analgesic (a medication that reduces or eliminates pain) Extra Strength TYLENOL* acetaminophen as an example, here's how we recommend reading an OTC drug label. Everything you need to know is on the label.
Look for the medicinal ingredient in each dose/caplet:
A medicinal (or active) ingredient is the chemical compound in the medicine that works with your body to bring relief to your symptoms.
e.g. Acetaminophen 500mg
Familiarize yourself with the purpose or uses of the medication
Sometimes also referred to as indications, this section tells you the ONLY symptoms the medicine is approved to relieve.
e.g. TYLENOL* acetaminophen is unlikely to cause stomach upset and acts quickly to provide temporary relief of headaches (including mild to moderate migraine and tension headache), arthritis pain, muscle aches and sprains, menstrual cramps, fever and the aches and pains due to flu.
Read the warnings
Warnings or Caution
This section will tell you what other medications, foods or situations to avoid (such as driving) when taking this medicine. It will also caution you about the use of the product by people with certain medical conditions.
e.g. CAUTION: Keep out of reach of children. This package contains enough medication to seriously harm a child. If fever persists for more than 3 days or pain for more than 5 days, consult a doctor. Use only as directed by a doctor.
e.g. As with any other pain medicine, consult a doctor before use:
Chronic heavy alcohol users may be at increased risk of liver damage when taking more than the recommended dose of acetaminophen. Read inside flaps for important information before use.
e.g. WARNING: Do not use if carton is open or if printed plastic neck seal or inner mouth seal is broken.
Follow the directions carefully
Directions or Dosage
The only recommended dosage and frequency of dosage will be listed here. You should follow this strictly. It's not just how much you take, but also how often. Do not take more than directed.
e.g. DOSAGE: Adults (12 years and older): 1 - 2 caplets every 4 hours as required. It is hazardous to exceed 8 caplets per day.
An inactive ingredient is a chemical compound in the medicine that has no intended effect on your body. Preservatives, items that bind the pill together and food colours are listed here.
e.g. NON-MEDICINAL INGREDIENTS (alphabetical): cellulose, corn starch, hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, magnesium stearate, polyethylene glycol, sodium starch glycolate.