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How to read and understand a drug label

Understanding a drug label

Would you be comfortable driving a car without having learnt(formally or informally) how to drive one?


Why not?

For fear of hurting yourself or others around you.

So it is with the medications we take. Medications are made more and more available to the general public, without prescription (otherwise known as Over-The-Counter, OTC medications), hence promoting self medication. These medications are generally safe when taken as directed, and dangerous when misused. But just because you can buy some (almost all!) medicines without prescription in Cameroon (sad truth) doesn’t mean you should not be careful.

For your own safety, medicines come with a drug leaflet (aka patient information leaflet or consumer medicine information), like an instruction manual. Most times the prints are so small and the paper may look boring. These papers are not to be overlooked or thrown in the nearest bin.

This section describes the symptoms/disease that the medicine treats.

This simply means the substance in the medicine that makes it work and its amount present per unit of the medicine. For example: paracetamol 500mg or paracetamol 1000mg. This section is so important to take note of as people tend to take more than one OTC medication for different symptoms. Sometimes these OTCs have similar active ingredients and if care not taken, high risk for an over dosage or unwanted interactions.

It tells you of some of the side effects you might experience, when not to use the products, when you might need to seek professional advise, when to stop taking the medications.

These are other substances found in a medication that are not responsible for making the medicine work. They are there to facilitate your drug taking process e.g. colors, flavors. Same as the active ingredient section, check to see if you are allergic to any of these substances before taking.

Tells us how to take, how often and how long to take the medication.

Contains storage and contact information.

I challenge you to always read drug leaflets when next you buy your medications.

Stay safe!

Do not forget to share this post!

Ekwoge Hilda

Dr. Ekwoge Hilda is a trained pharmacist from Cameroon and Co-founder of HILPharma. When she is not busy creating content, she slings pills to pay the bills.

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