By guest blogger Michael Cohen:

Over-the-counter medications from cough medicines and heart burn drug to pain relievers and allergy pills are so ubiquitous these days many people often neglect to read the label. That can lead to serious consequences and sometimes death.

Many visits to doctor's offices and hospital emergency rooms are due to an adverse reaction because someone didn't read the label. This is also reflected in many of the consumer-initiated reports to Food and Drug Administration and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, the Horsham-based nonprofit group I lead.

Here's one such report that we received:

An healthy 18-year-old female had a very severe allergic reaction and almost stopped breathing after she swallowed a couple of Excedrin pills that she bought at a pharmacy for a headache. She was admitted to a hospital where she recovered after treatment, but it was touch and go for a while.

Although she was allergic to aspirin, the teen she was unaware that it was in the Excedrin® Extra Strength tablets she bought. While the product does list aspirin as an ingredient on the carton label and bottle, and does warn allergic patients not to take it, the word "aspirin" appears below the brand name in very small print, which may not be easily seen by people in a hurry or those with poor eyesight.

Since May of 2002, drug companies have also been applying a "Drug Facts" label, which clearly lists active ingredients (what makes the medication bring about the desired effect).  "Drug Facts" also includes uses (conditions for which you would take the medication), warnings (safety instructions for when and when not to take the medication), dosage directions (how much and how often to take the medication), inactive ingredients (such as fillers, dyes, and other non-drug ingredients that people can also be allergic to), and other information (such as how to store the medication).

So, the next time you're shopping for an OTC medication, take the 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. You can see an example of a "Drug Facts" label here.

For information on ISMP's consumer website go

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