Consumer

Flu season, cold medicine and confusing labels

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Choosing medicine for a cold, flu, and other aches and pains can be overwhelming.

Why is the drug aisle so confusing?

Dr. Marvin Lipman, Consumer Reports Medical Adviser said, "The problem is labels like extra strength, maximum strength, or ultra-strength really have no standard definition."

Take Ultra-Strength Tums. It has 100 percent more of its active ingredient than the regular version.

But Gas-X Ultra-Strength has 125 percent more of its active ingredient.

"The point is you really have to read the label in order to know how much you're taking," Lipman said.

Claims like "all day" and "long acting" are tricky, too. All-day Aleve lasts up to 12 hours. But this all-day medicine lasts 24 hours. With drugs that promise to relieve multiple symptoms, like a cold, flu, and sore throat, you could end up taking something you don't need.

"Drugs that treat multiple symptoms often have more than one ingredient, sometimes many," lipman said.

So if you take another medicine that contains one of those ingredients, you might wind up taking too much.

Consumer reports says best is choosing a single ingredient drug whenever you can, like ibuprofen for aches and pains or acetaminophen for a fever or headache.

And when in doubt, check with a pharmacist for help understanding over-the-counter drug labels.

Consumer reports say if the label says p.m., it probably contains an antihistamine that'll help you fall asleep.

But if the label says "non-drowsy," don't assume the drug will help you stay alert. Only some have caffeine or another stimulant that'll keep you awake.

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