Medication Warning Labels

April 28, 2015

The Importance of Reading Medication Warning Labels

It seems there are warning signs everywhere, telling us what we can’t or shouldn’t do. “No right turn on red”, “No cell phone use”, and “No smoking anywhere on the premises!” With so much sensory overload these days, it’s no wonder we don’t always pay attention to a warning sign and end up suffering the consequences. This is how accidents happen; we bump into a door because we didn’t read the sign that said “Please use other door”, or we get a speeding ticket because we didn’t see the sign that said “35 mph”. If we are lucky, we’ll only suffer a loss of dignity and/or pay a fine.

But some warning signs can have dire results if ignored, particularly the warnings on medication labels. “May cause drowsiness and dizziness; do not operate heavy machinery while taking this medication” is a common warning label on prescription pain killers. You might read that and think “I don’t operate a bulldozer, so I should be fine.” Not necessarily! Your car is a piece of heavy machinery, and just as you shouldn’t drink alcohol and drive, neither should you drive while taking most prescription narcotics.

Another common warning label on prescriptions is “May cause photosensitivity; avoid sunlight while taking this medication”. You may think you are safe because you work in an office and don’t spend much time outside, but even the few minutes of direct sunlight you receive while driving can trigger a reaction.  Slather on sunscreen, wear a hat, long sleeves, dark glasses, and skip the tanning bed while taking the medication and for several days after taking the last dose. You don’t want to be miserable with hives, a rash, or nasty sunburn!

Finally, read carefully to see if your medication will interact with food or other medications. This applies to over-the-counter medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements as well. Some interactions will dilute the effects of your medication, while others will enhance it. Some interactions can even be dangerously toxic, like drinking grapefruit juice with simvastatin.

The bottom line is – pay attention to warning labels! When picking up a new prescription, always ask your pharmacist “Will this react with any of my other medications? With any food or drink? What side effects should I expect?” Just a few extra minutes can save you a lot of time and grief, and get you back on the road to health and wellness!