Medication Label Literacy

Reading the label on your medications – both prescription medications and those available without a prescription (over-the-counter or OTC medication) – is critical for your health.

What’s On the Label

How to Read Over the Counter Medicine Labels

All non-prescription, over-the-counter (OTC) medicine labels have detailed information about the proper use of the medication as well as pertinent precautions to help you choose which treatment is best for you.  It is important to remember that just because a medication is available “OTC” or is “all natural” does not necessarily mean it is safe and effective for every person who may use it, or that it does not have any potential interactions with other medications, foods, or health conditions.

Below is an example of what an OTC medicine label looks like as well as how to read it.

OTC Label

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How to Read Prescription Medication Labels

All prescription medication labels include information about use and precautions. They are also dispensed with a sheet of printed material with more detailed information about the drug. We encourage you to ask your health care provider questions before getting a prescription, and then request an educational consult with your pharmacist when filling the prescription. By both hearing and viewing important information about your medication, you are more likely to avoid misusing it and get the most benefit from it.

Below is an example of what a prescription medicine label looks like as well as how to read it. All pharmacy labels will look slightly different and may have the information organized slightly differently, although the included information should be the same.  Please note that most prescriptions expire 1 year after the date that the prescriber writes it, but the expiration date of the medication itself is often different and always listed on the prescription label.

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The Campus Health Services Pharmacy offers consultations with pharmacists who are well-versed in the needs and issues of college students. Please utilize this service! Common questions you may consider asking include:

  1. How should I take this medication?
  2. How much should I take?
  3. Is this ok to take after drinking/smoking/using other drugs?
  4. I sometimes take (insert herbal medication, OTC medication, other prescriptions). Are there any interactions?
  5. Will this impact my life in any way (driving, sleeping, mood, etc.)?
  6. Are there other options if I don’t want the effects you’ve described?
  7. Do you have any tips on how I can remember to take this at the right time?
  8. What do I do if I forget to take a dose?
  9. How long should I take this medication?

Many of these questions can also be answered with critical reading of the medication bottle and the patient information that comes with it, but some may be more specific to you and your needs. Ask your pharmacist or health care provider your questions. If you forget to ask an important question or have one arise after you’ve left, please contact your pharmacy. The Campus Health Pharmacy phone number is 919-966-6554.

FDA, U.S. Food and Drug Administration 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332)

Consumer Reports Health,


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