Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are readily available on store shelves and they are used to relieve a wide variety of day-to-day health problems. Since they are often less expensive than prescription drugs and can be obtained without a doctor's order, OTCs are a common solution to problems like colds, headache, and muscle aches. However, you need to be aware of the side effects and drug interactions OTCs can cause if you do not follow the instructions on the label.

In the past couple of years, the FDA has published guidelines for labeling OTCs so that the layout of the labels is very similar and easy to read and understand. If you are taking an OTC drug, you need to read the label first so that you know the:

• Correct dosage
• Possible side effects (like drowsiness, which could impair your driving ability)
• Interactions with other medications
• Problems the drug could cause if you have other health problems (for example, taking a nasal decongestant if you have high blood pressure could cause problems)

If you have questions you can talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you begin taking any new medication. You should check whether the drug will have interactions with any medication you're currently taking, how you can tell if an interaction is occurring, whether there are any food products you should avoid, and how the drug works.

DRUG LABELS AND WHAT THEY MEAN:

• "Active Ingredients": This section tells you what ingredients in the drug are actively working in your body and how much of each ingredient is in one dose of the drug. If you are taking more than one OTC drug at a time, you should compare the "Active Ingredients" sections of both drug labels to ensure that you are not getting an overdose, or that you are not taking two ingredients that react harmfully with each other.
• "Purpose": In this section, you will find a list of what each active ingredient is meant to do.
• "Uses": Here, the label will tell you health issues the drug counteracts. Use this portion of the label to help you decide which OTC will fit your specific problem(s) best.
• "Warnings": This tells you crucial information about 1) whether or not you need to talk to a medical professional before you begin taking the drug, 2) which other medical conditions will cancel out the effects of the drug or react unsafely with it, 3) any specific times the drug should not be taken, and 4) the maximum length of time you should take the drug.
• "Directions": You can find here an outline of the information on how long to take the medication, how large a dose to take, and any "special instructions."
• "Other Information": This is designed to tell you about specific ingredients that people with allergies or a special diet need to know about (e. g. sodium).
• "Inactive Ingredients": Any other ingredients, like coloring, buffers, etc. found in the medication are found here.
• For more information on the drug and its properties, the "Questions or Comments?" section provides a phone number to call if you have concerns.

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