How to Read Medicine Labels

Reading the fine print on medicine labels can be daunting, especially when you or someone you love is in pain. Here’s a guide to help you make sense of it all.

Medicine Bottle

Be sure to compare labels if you’re taking more than one over-the-counter medication at a time. Taking multiple medicines with the same active ingredient can be harmful.

1. Active ingredient

The parts of the medicine that make it work.

2. Uses

Describes the symptoms that the medicine treats.

3. Directions

Indicates the amount or dose of medicine to take, how often to take it, and how much you can take in one day.

4. Inactive ingredients

Ingredients not intended to treat your symptoms (e.g., preservatives, flavorings).

5. Warnings

Safety information including side effects, the questions you should ask a doctor before taking the medicine, and which medicines to avoid using at the same time. You can also find the Poison Control Center phone number here.

6. Other information

How to store the medicine.

7. Questions or comments

Call the company if you have questions about a specific medicine.