We’ve all taken a quick trip to the pharmacy to relieve a cold, allergy and minor aches and pains. On the surface, it’s a simple process: buy a product, dash home and wait for your symptoms to mellow. But you need to think before you buy. Why? Because your health depends on it

Over-the-counter (OTC) medication has changed over the years. You’ve probably noticed that pharmacy shelves are more crowded and that it’s no longer a matter of deciding on a mere one or two choices. Add any existing medication (OTC or prescription) you’re taking and, wham, your quick fix just got more complicated. Before you buy any OTC medication, stick to the following steps to ensure your health and safety are protected:

Speak to your pharmacist if you don’t know what to buy, how to use a product or are buying for a child.

Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you have any existing medical condition (including pregnancy or breast feeding), even if you’re not taking prescription medication for it. Some OTC meds could cause serious side effects such as a spike in blood pressure.

Don’t rely on what an advertisement tells you about the medication. You need to read the label carefully. Even after you’ve bought the product, you may want to keep the packaging if you find the type on the bottle too hard to read.

Check the warnings. Warnings will explain when you shouldn’t take the medication (for example, if you have certain allergies) and when to contact your doctor (if your symptoms don’t go away after a certain number of days or if you develop certain side-effects, such as a fever for instance). This section will also let you know if there are certain activities (such as driving) that should be avoided while taking the medication.

Scan the medicinal and non-medicinal ingredients. This is especially important if you have any allergies or are sensitive to non-medicinal ingredients. Syrups, for example, may contain natural or artificial flavours to make them tastier.

Make sure you understand the dosage instructions. Even though you don’t need a prescription, OTC medication does contain active ingredients. Make sure you understand exactly how to take it and the recommended period of time.

Check that the product hasn’t been tampered with. Most OTC meds come with some type of tamper-proof packaging. Check to ensure what you’re buying hasn’t been tampered with. n Follow storage information carefully. How you store OTC products will impact how safe and effective a product will remain until its expiry date.

Keep a list. For your doctor’s appointment, bring a list of all OTC medications you’re taking and why you’re taking the medication.

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