Drugstores are full of medications that are available without a prescription. Most promise to resolve your symptoms quickly and safely whether it be a hacking cough, a stuffy nose, or a bad case of indigestion. Although drugstore medications can be effective for treating some symptoms, just because it’s available without a prescription doesn’t necessarily make it a safe choice. Even a commonly used drug such as Tylenol can cause life-threatening liver failure if used excessively. This is why it’s important to understand how to select safe over-the-counter medications. Here are some pointers for choosing the right ones.
The first rule for selecting safe over-the-counter medications is to understand how to read the label. It’s surprising how few people take the time to read and fully comprehend the fine print on a non-prescription drug label. The information contained on a label is usually listed in a standardized format that’s similar from medication to medication. Here’s how to understand what each piece of information means.
How to Read the Label When Selecting a Safe Over-the-Counter Medication
The active ingredient is the first ingredient listed on the drug label and is the component of the medication used to relieve the symptoms. The active ingredient is usually listed along with how much each pill or capsule contains. Some over-the-counter medications may have more than one active ingredient. It’s important to be sure you have no history of allergy or bad reaction to the active ingredient before using the medication. If you have any questions as to how the active ingredient works, ask your pharmacist.
This is usually the second piece of information listed on an over-the-counter medication label. The label usually lists each condition that the medication is used for. This allows you to see whether the medication is suitable for treating the symptoms you’re having. Don’t use an over-the-counter medication to treat a symptom that’s not listed under this section.
This section should always be heeded. It tells you what medications or foods to avoid if you use this particular treatment. For example, a Tylenol bottle always contains a warning not to use it if you drink more than three glasses of alcohol a day. It also gives instructions as to whether it’s safe to take the medication when pregnant or give it to children. If you take prescription medications, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor of pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter drugs. Avoid combining two or more over-the-counter medications without contacting your doctor first.
This gives instructions on how much to take and how often it should be taken. Never take more than the suggested dosage. Even over-the-counter medications can have serious side effects if used improperly. For children, separate dosages are listed if the medication is suitable for kids. Never give an adult dosage of a medication to a child under the age of twelve.
This lists the medication’s ingredients that aren’t actively involved in symptom relief. These include preservatives, food colorings, or fillers. If you have any type of food or medication allergy, read this section carefully to make sure you’re not sensitive to one of the ingredients.
Choosing a Safe Over-the-Counter Medication: Other Tips
It’s important to take note of the expiration date. When you bring a new over-the-counter medication home, circle the expiration date so you’ll know when to discard it.
If you have a bad reaction to an over-the-counter medication, write down the name of the medication as well as the active and inactive ingredients for future reference. Give this information to your doctor and pharmacist and keep a record of it for yourself.
Learning to read drug labels will allow you to more easily choose safe over-the-counter medications for you and your family. It pays to read the fine print.