Consumer Reports decodes OTC meds lingo

What do ultra-strength, extra-strength, all-day claims mean?

At this time of year, there's a lot of congestion in the cold aisle. Deciphering the labels on all of the over-the-counter medicines can add to the headache.

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

For example, Ultra-Strength Tums has 100 percent more of its active ingredient than the regular version. But, Gas-X Ultra-Strength has 125 times more.

Claims like "all-day" and "long-acting" can be tricky, too. All-Day Alleve lasts up to 12 hours, but another all-day medicine lasts 24 hours.

Drugs that claim to relieve a lot of symptoms, like for a cold or the flu, can lead to taking unnecessary medication.

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

So if you take another medicine that contains one of those ingredients, you could overmedicate.

According to Consumer Reports, you are better off taking single ingredient drugs.

Bottom line, you need to read the labels, and if you don't understand them, ask the pharmacist.

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