The Medication Label - What to Look For

According to the Institute of Medicine, 90 million adults in the U.S. misunderstand drug labels or have difficulty following their directions. Plus, as you get older, the number of prescription drugs one takes increases.

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The Medication Label - What to Look For
4 Min Read December 20th, 2020 Updated:April 29th, 2022

Understanding everything listed on your prescription label can be a challenge. Comprehending your medication label will help with good health and avoid accidents.

However, sometimes the labels on your prescription medicines seem overloaded with confusing information. Learning how to read a medication label is essential to overall good health, no matter your age.

Key Information on the Label 

The label on your prescription bottle includes several familiar pieces of information, including: 

  • Your dosing schedules

  • Medication strength and name

  • Total number of tablets dispensed

  • The number of refills remaining

  • A prescription identification number

Pharmacy Information Sheets

While the bottle provides essential information and instructions, you will get the most detailed info about the drug from the pharmacy sheet that comes with the prescription. A pharmacy information sheet will include:

  • Warnings. This section warns users about specific ingredients in the substance and cautions against mixing the medication with other substances. It also mentions harmful dosage information.

  • Uses. As the name suggests, this section highlights why someone may need to take the prescribed medication.

  • How to Use. This section describes how to use the medication safely. For example, you may need to apply topical medication three times a day or take a specific pill at mealtimes.

  • Side Effects. Every drug undergoes preliminary testing to ensure it is safe. This testing also uncovers any potential side effects. The pharmacy information sheet will list these side effects and recommend discussing any side effects with a doctor.

  • Drug Facts. Within the drug facts section of your pharmacy information sheet, you will find information on the substance's inactive and active ingredients. Inactive ingredients play a vital role in how the active ingredients work, but they can also cause allergic reactions.

Understand the Warnings and Dosage Rules

Medication labels have a lot of information, making it hard for users to comprehend the medication's risks and benefits fully. Use this guide to learn how to read a medication label to be confident in the prescriptions you are taking.

It is recommended that you get your prescription drugs from the same pharmacy as they will record other medications you are taking. If you get a new medication, be sure you understand how to take the medication. Often, the pharmacist can review this with you when you pick up a new prescription for the first time.

Keep a list of the prescriptions you are currently taking and keep it with you. Many smartphones can store this vital health information. There are also health apps available that can do the same thing. You can also include your doctors' names and contact information and the health issues for which you are being treated. You can also keep a printed version in your wallet or purse.

If you have older family members, be sure they are doing the same thing. You can keep your list of their information as well. 

There are several common directions you can find on medication labels. These include:

Take once (or twice/three times) daily:

Check to be sure you understand the direction. Usually, twice daily would mean every twelve hours, for example. Find out if you miss a dosage, whether you should go ahead and take it when you think of it, or wait until the next correct time.

Take as needed: 

What exactly does "take as needed" mean? Find out the maximum amount you can take in one 24-hour period. How many hours spacing should you have between dosing?

Take with food/take with water:

Usually, when a label says 'take with food,' it means something more substantial than a cracker. Ask the doctor or pharmacist precisely what is required with the use of the medication.

The same thing goes with water. There are medications where at least 8 ounces of water is required. Do not assume; ask. 

Limit sun exposure: 

Too many people ignore this warning. When the label says, 'limit sun exposure,' it means exactly that. However, it usually does not mean you cannot go outside. Find out exactly what it means to limit sun exposure. 

Understanding a drug label is always essential, no matter what your age. However, as you get older, it becomes even more important as an older person typically has multiple health issues to juggle. In addition, some older people may have some cognitive decline.

Be sure to help older family members and discuss these concerns. If your loved one has a caregiver, be sure they understand all the medications.

Medication Management - Important for Older People

About 350,000 people every year are hospitalized following a visit to the emergency room because of adverse drug events, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As we get older and experience declines in our health, we are prescribed more and more medications. Multiple doctors may prescribe these drugs. In a perfect world, each doctor would know all the medications a person is taking and why they are taking the drug. We still don't have ideal communication, and sometimes an individual uses different pharmacies, taking away a good failsafe. 

There are many drug interactions and not just with other medications but with foods and supplements as well. Older adults may unintentionally forget to follow their doctor's directions. Some people who take multiple medications choose to skip doses on purpose or not fill prescriptions, either because they think they do not need the drug or for financial reasons.

Those with dementia will forget to take their medications, and some older people are not diligent with taking their meds properly. Better medication management is a vital part of long-term health care - although even those who are still independent sometimes need help with managing their medications. 

Plus, poly-pharmacy is a growing problem, and some doctors tend not to try to find the underlying health problem and treat older people with yet another medication. 

Helping older family members with their medications is essential, even if they live independently. Ask them about their medications, why they are taking each drug, and how they should be taking the medication. Check their list with their drug bottles. 

Encourage them to get all their prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy. Plus, they should always have a list of all their medications, the dosages, the reasons they are being taken, and the name of the doctor who prescribed them with them at all times.

Review this list with all their doctors and caregivers. The right medications can improve health and quality of life, but when not taken correctly, they can become dangerous. 

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About the Author

Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.

LTC News Contributor Mallory Knee

Mallory Knee

Contributor since September 25th, 2020

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