What to Look for on OTC Drug Labels

Medication errors—taking the wrong medication, or the right medication too frequently or in the wrong amount—can be dangerous.

Knowing how to make use of over-the-counter (OTC) drug labels can help you protect yourself and your family from harm, the FDA says.

Read carefully

Always read the label. 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 therapeutic substance in product; amount of active ingredient per unit

  • Purpose: product action or category, such as antihistamine, antacid, or cough suppressant

  • Uses: symptoms or diseases the product will treat or prevent

  • Warnings: when not to use the product; conditions that may require advice from a doctor before taking the product; possible interactions or side effects; when to stop taking the product and when to contact a doctor

  • Directions: specific age categories, how much to take, how to take, and how often and how long to take

  • Other information: how to store the product properly and information about certain ingredients, such as the amount of calcium, potassium, or sodium the product contains

  • Inactive ingredients: substances such as colors or flavors

Other details

The label also tells you:

  • Expiration date

  • Lot or batch code

  • Net quantity of contents

  • What to do if an overdose occurs

If you read a medication label and still have questions, ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist or other health care professional for advice.


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