and away, when children come over to visit.
Inactive Ingredients: Inactive ingredients are the parts of the
medicine that don’t treat symptoms. They can include ingredients
such as lactose or dyes that may cause allergic reactions. “Sodium
may also be listed here, which can be an issue for somebody with
high blood pressure or congestive heart failure,” Engle says.
Questions or comments?: Lists the manufacturer’s telephone
number and the hours they’re open. If you read an OTC medicine
label and still have questions about the product, call them. You
can also talk to your doctor or pharmacist. “We’re happy to answer
questions about OTC medicines,” Engle says. “We can direct you to
the right medicine given your condition and your medical history.”
DECIPHERING RX DRUG LABELS
Unlike OTC medicines, Rx medicine labels can vary depending
on the state where the drug is prescribed. But most Rx drugs
contain the same basic label information, including:
Drug: The drug name, strength and quantity. Pill pointer: When
your doctor writes your Rx, ask him or her to tell you the name
of the medicine. Take notes about how to take it. Know what the
medicine is for, too. You’re more likely to use it correctly and know
what to expect from it. Then, check the label at the pharmacy.
In the unlikely event that the pharmacist gives you the wrong
medicine or the wrong strength, you’ll be more likely to spot the
mistake because you’ve heard the medicine name. Also, double-check the label each time you take your medicine to make
sure you’re taking the right one. If you’re taking more than one
medicine, it’s easy to confuse them.
Pharmacy: The pharmacy’s name, address and telephone
Rx #: A serial number assigned only to that Rx.
Date: The current date you’re filling the Rx.
Who the Rx is for: The patient’s name. Pill pointer: Mix-ups
are rare. Still, make sure that the name on the bottle is yours.
Pill description: This tells you what the pill looks like, such
as “this is a round orange pill.” If the pills look different than what
you think you’re supposed to get, ask the pharmacist. It may be
the same medicine in a different form, or a generic form of the
medicine. It’s always good to ask.
Discard after: The expiration date of your medicine. After
this date, a drug may not be safe or effective to use. Ask your
pharmacist how to safely discard the medicine.
The prescriber: The name of the doctor who prescribed the
The pharmacist: The initials
or name of the pharmacist who
filled your Rx.
Directions for use:
Instructions for taking the
medicine and any precautions
as indicated on the Rx. Pill
pointer: If the container tells you
to take the medicine with food
or a specific beverage, like milk,
take it as directed. If a medicine
causes drowsiness, don’t take
it with another medicine that
also makes you sleepy, like an
antihistamine (allergy medicine). If
label instructions are vague, such
as “take three times a day,” ask
your pharmacist or doctor to clarify. Ask, “Does that mean every
Phone number: The telephone number of the pharmacy
that filled your Rx. Call the pharmacy if you have any questions.
Some good ones to ask: What should I do if I forget a dose?
Should I take this medicine before, during or after meals? What
are the possible side effects? What should I do if I experience
side effects? Are there other medicines or foods I should avoid
while I’m taking this medicine?
Bar codes: These aren’t found on all Rx labels, but some bottles
may have them. Bar codes can help pharmacists prevent medicine
mistakes when the Rx is filled.
Before taking an Rx medicine, read the medication guide. This
handout comes with many Rx medicines. It lists the medicine’s
active ingredients and contains other information that can
help you avoid serious adverse events. It can help you avoid
overdosing on active ingredients or getting the wrong medicine.
Keep medicine in its original container. If you’re using a pill
dispenser, keep the original container. This way you always
have access to the directions, interactions and the medicine’s
Before you take any medicine, be sure to read—and follow—the
label directions. Take the time to understand the uses, warnings,
directions, and other important information on both Rx and OTC drug
labels. This will help you avoid problems and stay safe!