You might have a lot of medications in your home.  It's not that you're a plastic bottle collector; you probably had a headache, couldn't remember where you put that bottle of Tylenol and just bought a new one instead.  The same is true with colds, allergies, pain relievers, even toothpastes, antiperspirants, and sunscreens.

All of these drugs are considered over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and you buy them without needing a prescription.  But it's important that you use them safely.  Here are some tips from the FDA on how to use them safely.

Drug Labels

All OTC medicines have a special label on the package called Drug Facts.  Reading Drug Facts is very important before using any OTC medicine. Drug Facts tells you:

  • The active ingredients (the parts of the medicine that make it work)
  • What the medicine treats (its job or purpose)
  • If the medicine is right for you and your problem
  • How to use the medicine correctly (how much to use, how often to use it, when to speak to a doctor before using it, and when to stop using it).

It is important to use OTC medicines safely. Even though you can buy OTC medicines off the shelf in the store, these medicines can be harmful if you don’t use them carefully and correctly. So, ask questions! Play an active part in making choices about your health:

  • Know what your medicine does and why you’re using it.
  • Know what kinds of unwanted effects to watch for.

Using Medicines Safely


  1. Speak to your parent or guardian before using any medicine.
  2. Read the Drug Facts panel on the label - ALL of it - and follow the directions.
  3. Check ingredients. This is especially important if you are using more than one medicine.
  4. Make sure you are not using two medicines with the same active ingredient.
  5. Choose a medicine that treats only the problems you have.
  6. Tell your parent, guardian, or school nurse if you do not feel better or start to feel worse after using a medicine.
  7. Speak to your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist if you have questions about your medicine or how it should make you feel.
  8. Keep all medicines in the bottle, box, or tube that they came in. That will make the directions easy to find.
  9. Keep all medicines in a safe, dry place.
  10. Keep them where they can't be seen or reached by younger children or pets.


  1. Don’t use a medicine unless you know what it is and what it’s for.
  2. Don’t use more medicine than the amount listed on the label. If the medicine does not help you feel better, tell an adult. Don't take more of the medicine.
  3. Don’t use other people's prescription medicine and don’t share your prescription medicine with anyone else.
  4. Don’t take medicine for longer than the label says.
  5. Don’t use old medicines. If a medicine is past the expiration date on the package, throw it in a garbage can away from small children and pets. This is the best choice if you are unable to take medicines to a household hazardous waste site.

For more information go to Medicines in My Home (MIMH), a new resource put together by the Food and Drug Administration.

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