How to Make Sense of Your Medicines

Here are some tips help you make sense of your medicines. Every time you get medicine from the pharmacy it has to come with instructions on the label. Over the counter medication such as pain relievers or cold medications, for example, come in a box with details printed as part of the packaging.

You can avoid costly and sometimes dangerous mistakes, by reading the labels, every time.


If the Writing is too Small, Poor Eyesight

Ask the pharmacist to photocopy and enlarge the packaging of the medicine, or use your phone to do it yourself. You could use a magnifying glass. In all cases of enlarging the writing make sure to enlarge the whole label so that you don’t miss any information.

In the case of poor eyesight, make sure that the pharmacist reads out the important information to you. Ask him to circle or highlight it so that you can show it to your helper or nurse, if you need to.



What is On A Label?

Over-The-Counter Medicines have a “Drug Facts Panel” with important information in it. Reading through it carefully will tell you more about the medicine you are about to use.

This is always important, but especially so, if you are starting a new medicine.

What you need to know:

  • How to take the medicine
  • The ingredients of the medicine
  • How you might feel when you take it

This is displayed in a clear, box-by-box format, as follows:


Active Ingredients…..Purpose

The first section describes what is in the medicine and the medical category it falls into. It describes how much medicine is in each dose. This is useful so that you don’t end up with two medicines that have the same main ingredient by mistake. You also know how the medicine is supposed to help, e.g. it is reduce pain or fever.



This is more specific than Purpose. Here are written, typical conditions that people use this medicine for. Check if your condition is written there.



In this section of the label, warnings are laid out in detail – Why the medicine could be problematic, allergy information,, who should not take it, when you may or must stop taking it, when you should seek medical advice, potential side affects.

The warnings section, although detailed, might be incomplete. Ask any questions you have, even those that seem obvious.


Directions or Dosage

This is a very important section of the label. Here you find how much and when to take the medicine. If the label says, take every 4 hours, do not take it more frequently than that without asking your doctor. Labels that say “Take twice a day”, you should ask about the time gap in between. When it is not written on the bottle, listen to the pharmacist’s explanation or ask questions. For medications where there are multiple uses for the medicine, the different doses will be set forth in this section of the package.


Other Information

Other relevant information is printed here. For example, storage instructions, foods to avoid or other general information.


Inactive Ingredients 

Ingredients in the medicine that are part of the medicine but do not treat the condition. These might include starches, flavorings, coloring. It is another place to check for allergy sensitive ingredients that you might not expect to find in your medicine.




Prescription Medicine

Prescription medicine can come in a box with this information on it or in the main, in vials with information printed on the sick on labels.

All information should be clear, but again if the print is too small, or unclear ask someone to help you read it.


5 Points to Keep You Safe

Consumer Reports, in a 2011 ‘spot checkat several pharmacies investigated the clarity of prescription medicine labels. Their results indicated that labels are sometimes hard to read and do not always include all relevant information.

They recommend, follow these 5 guidelines when you pick up your medicine to help you make sense of your medicines:

  1. Make sure you understand how much medicine you are to take, when and how often to take it. Talk to the pharmacist. Even if the pharmacist looks busy, do not hold back from asking your questions.
  2. Ask specifically about things to eat or avoid: alcohol, food, supplements and vitamins.
  3. Ask about side affects, which are the most common, which are the most serious.
  4. Patient Information Sheets give relevant information – read them for every new medicine and for changes in medicines you recognize as well.
  5. Know or ask when you should cease to use the medicine. Antibiotics must be taken until the end of the course, other medicines can sometimes be stopped when you feel better; yet other medicines must be continued for a period of time following healing.


Report, and Reduce Medicinal Mistakes

If anyone experiences adverse reactions to any drug, they should report it to Food and Drug Administration via the FDA’s MedWatch website: .

This overview of way to help you make sense of your medicines is a helpful guide.

It cannot be a complete guide since each person must ask their own questions to themselves, to their doctor and to their pharmacist.

Following guidelines that help you to make sense of your medicines will help you be more aware of the medicines you are taking and why. Here’s to staying healthy!


Make Sense of your Medicine Labels

Taking Medicine is Not Child’s Play!


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