Joe and Teresa Graedon

Are you a label reader? Some people pay close attention to the nutrition labels on their breakfast cereal or peanut butter. Others check country of origin on their shirts or shoes.

Some people read all the instructions before they start to put together a bookshelf from Ikea or hook up an electronic device. Others try to figure it out on their own. Sometimes that strategy works and sometimes it doesn’t.

When it comes to over-the-counter medicine, lots of people skip the label and the instructions. As a result, they may get into far more trouble than if they assemble a toy incorrectly.

Take OTC pain relievers, for example. Many people take such products for granted. If the Food and Drug Administration says they are safe, why bother to read instructions or warnings?

Products such as regular-strength aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen come with dosing information that is probably familiar. The makers of Bayer aspirin offer this: “adults and children 12 years and over: Take 1 or 2 tablets every 4 hours or 3 tablets every 6 hours, not to exceed 12 tablets in 24 hours.”

The directions that come with regular-strength (325 mg) Tylenol tablets state: “Take 2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours while symptoms last; do not take more than 10 tablets in 24 hours, unless directed by a doctor.”

The dosing information that comes with Advil is a bit different, but also allows for two tablets at a time: “1 tablet/caplet/gel caplet every 4 to 6 hours while symptoms persist. If pain or fever does not respond to 1 tablet/caplet/gel caplet, 2 may be used. Do not exceed 6 tablets/caplets/gel caplets in 24 hours unless directed by a doctor.”

Now look at the Aleve (naproxen) dosage. This NSAID is similar to ibuprofen, but the instructions are quite different:

“Take one tablet, caplet, gelcap or liquid gel every 8 to 12 hours while symptoms last. For the first dose, you may take 2 pills within the first hour. Do not exceed more than 2 tablets, caplets, gelcaps or liquid gels in 12 hours, and do not exceed 3 tablets, caplets, gelcaps or liquid gels in 24 hours. The smallest effective dose should be used. Drink a full glass of water with each dose.”

People who assume that Aleve and Advil are similar and can be taken the same way could end up overdosing on naproxen. That’s because the maximum number of ibuprofen pills in 24 hours is six versus three for naproxen. Anyone who thinks that Aleve can be taken the same way as aspirin could quadruple the allowable dose.

Many OTC products also come with limits on use. People are supposed to stop such pain relievers as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen and consult a doctor if pain “lasts more than 10 days.”

Such acid-suppressing drugs as Nexium 24HR, Prevacid 24HR and Prilosec OTC come with this caution: “Do not use for more than 14 days unless directed by your doctor; you may repeat a 14-day course every 4 months; do not take for more than 14 days or more often than every 4 months unless directed by a doctor.”

Do you read and follow such instructions? What about side effect information? Do you check for potential adverse reactions before taking any OTC medicine? Please visit our website ( and let us know whether you take the time to carefully read OTC drug labels.

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