Whether prescription or over-the-counter (OTC), no medicine is without risk. Besides benefits, medicines may cause side effects, allergic reactions, and interactions with other medicines, alcohol, tobacco, and even foods, including dietary supplements.
The National Council on Patient Information and Education, Washington, D.C., recommends asking the doctor these questions:
What is the medicine's name, and what is it supposed to do?
How and when do I take it, and for how long?
What foods, drinks, other medicines, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
Are there side effects, and what do I do if they occur?
Will this new prescription work safely with other prescription and OTC medicines I'm taking?
Is there written information available about the medicine?
It's wise to write down the answers to these questions immediately, to make sure you'll remember all the details.
Here are more tips for helping your medicines work as safely and effectively as possible.
Keep a record of names, doses and regimens of current medicines; record medicine problems and the reasons for the problems.
Ask the doctor or pharmacist to write out complicated directions and medicine names.
Using adequate light, read labels carefully before taking doses.
Ask the doctor's or pharmacist's advice before crushing or splitting tablets; some should be swallowed whole.
Contact the doctor or pharmacist if new or unexpected symptoms appear.
Never stop medicine the doctor has told you to finish just because symptoms disappear.
Ask the doctor periodically to reevaluate long-term treatments.
If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor before using an OTC medicine the first time, especially if you use other medicine.
Carefully read OTC medicine labels for ingredients, proper uses, directions, warnings, precautions, and expiration dates.
Discard outdated medicine.
Store medicine in the original container, where the label identifies it and gives directions. If, however, you choose to use an OTC convenience container, ask the pharmacist whether the container will affect your medicines' stability.
Never store medicine in the bathroom. Unless instructed otherwise, keep it away from heat, light and moisture.
Never store medicine near a dangerous substance, which could be taken by mistake.
Never take someone else's medicine.
Tell your health professional if you:
are breast-feeding or are, or may be, pregnant
are allergic to drugs or foods
have diabetes or kidney or liver disease
take other prescription or OTC medicines regularly
follow a special diet or take dietary supplements
use alcohol or tobacco.
Children and Medicine
Keep all medicine out of children's reach. Some medicines, such as iron supplements, are very toxic to children.
Use child-resistant caps, and never leave containers uncapped.
Examine dose cups carefully. Cups may be marked with various measurement units and may not use standard abbreviations. Follow label directions. Never substitute a cup from another product.
When using a dosing syringe with a cap, discard the cap before use.
Never guess when converting measuring units--from teaspoons or tablespoons to ounces, for example. Consult a reliable source, such as the pharmacist.
Never try to remember the dose used during previous illnesses; read the label each time.
Check with the doctor or pharmacist before giving a child more than one medicine at a time.
Never give medicine to children unless it is recommended for them on the label or by a doctor.
Never use medicine for purposes not mentioned on the label, unless so directed by a doctor.
Check with the doctor before giving a child aspirin products. Never give aspirin to a child or teenager who has or is recovering from chickenpox, flu symptoms (nausea, vomiting or fever), or flu. Aspirin may be associated in such patients with an increased risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness.
Protect Against Tampering
Read the label about the product's tamper-evident features.
Look at the package for tampering signs such as broken seals, puncture holes, or open or damaged wrappings.
Look at the medicine. Never take medicine that is discolored, has an unusual odor, or seems suspicious in some other way.
Return suspicious medicine to the store manager or pharmacist.
Look again when you take a dose. Never take medicine if you're not alert or can't see clearly.
Provided by FDA Consumer magazine.