What to Look for on OTC Medicine Labels
Medicine errors—taking the wrong medicine or the right medicine too often, or in the
wrong amount—can be dangerous.
According to the FDA, knowing how to make use of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine labels
can help you protect yourself and your family from harm.
Always read the label. Even though the print may be very small, all OTC medicine labels
have detailed usage and warning information to help you choose and use the products.
Look for the following information:
Active ingredient. The medicine that is in the product and the amount of active ingredient per dose
Purpose. Product action or category like antihistamine, antacid, or cough suppressant
Uses. Symptoms or diseases the product can treat or prevent
Warnings. This is when not to use the product and includes conditions that may need advice from
a healthcare provider before taking the product; possible side effects; interactions
with other medicines that can occur; when to stop taking the product; and when to
contact a healthcare provider
Directions. Specific age categories, how much or how many to take, how to take, and how often
and how long to take. Note that there may be different instructions, depending on
the age of the person who will use the medicine.
Other information. How to store the product properly and information about certain ingredients, like
the amount of calcium, potassium, or sodium the product contains. Most medicines should
be stored in cool, dry places and in their original bottles, if possible.
Inactive ingredients. Substances like colors, flavors, or fillers that don't contribute to the action of
the medicine. Some products may contain sugars like glucose, fructose, or corn syrup
that some people need to avoid. Some products contain alcohol. This may cause problems
if taken in large enough doses.
The label also tells you:
Expiration date. This may be in a different location on the product, like on the bottom of the bottle,
on the box, or on the crimped end of a tube of ointment.
Lot or batch code. Manufacturer information to help identify the product.
Net quantity of contents. This is the total amount of medicine, number of ounces or grams, or number of tablets.
What to do if an overdose happens . If the label does not say what to do, call your local poison control number or
local emergency room for instructions. You could also contact the Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222.
If you read a medicine label and still have questions, ask your healthcare provider,
nurse, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional for advice.