Anatomy of an OTC Medicine Label


otc label

A) Active Ingredients: The ingredients in the medicine that make it work in your body to relieve your symptoms or to bring about the desired effects. If taking more than one OTC medicine, the active ingredients should not be the same unless your doctor has told you to take them together.

B) Uses: The symptoms or conditions that the medicine is approved to treat.

C) Warnings:The safety instructions for when and when not to take the medicine. This includes:

  • Other medicines, foods, beverages (e.g., alcohol), and situations (e.g., driving) you shouldn't take or do while taking the medicine
  • A list of other diseases that mean you should not take the medicine
  • A list of other diseases to tell your doctor or pharmacist about before using the medicine
  • Side effects you may experience while taking the medicine
  • When you should stop taking the medicine and seek advice from your doctor
  • Whether the medicine is safe to use during pregnancy or when breastfeeding
  • Overdose warnings.


D) Directions: Exact instructions regarding how much, how often, and how long you should take the medicine.

E) Other information: Information about how to store the medicine or other important facts about the medicine not presented elsewhere on the label.

F) Inactive Ingredients: The ingredients in the medicine that do not have an effect in your body but are used to make it and give it color. (Inactive ingredients like lactose and red dye can cause effects if the person is allergic to them.)

Questions: Some labels also provide a telephone number in case you have questions about taking the medicine.

The next time you’re shopping for an OTC medicine, take time to read the label. The information presented will help you choose the most appropriate OTC drug for your needs, as well as help you use it safely.

Medication Safety Alerts

FDA Safety Alerts

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