In the movie The Matrix, the mysterious Morpheus presents chosen one Neo with the choice of a red pill or a blue pill.
Before taking either, Neo should ask some questions about these medicines. What’s in them? What do they do? How do you use them properly? Will they interact with other medicines or substances? Do they have any allergens like tree nuts or shellfish?
Morpheus hasn’t given Neo enough information to make an informed choice. For all Neo knows, one pill could be a suppository.
Fortunately, there’s a place that holds the answer to all of Neo’s questions. And no, it’s not Zion, the last human city.
It’s the medicine label.
Why is the medicine label important?
Labels are more important than you might realise.
If you don’t label your luggage, the airline could lose it. If you don’t check your shirt label, the washing machine might ruin it. And if you don’t label the presents, Christmas Day could become a family feud.
These are everyday labels. Medicine labels are more important, because they influence your health.
If you don’t read the medicine label thoroughly, you could take a medicine with an ingredient you’re allergic to, or accidentally take an overdose of an ingredient. The medicine label helps protects you from these avoidable accidents.
What should I look for on the medicine label?
Neo learns to see the code of the Matrix, but you don’t need to. The most important information about your medicine is right there on the label. You should read the label carefully and follow all instructions.
For medicines you buy from the supermarket or select at the pharmacy, you should pay particular attention to the critical health information:
- Active ingredients are the ingredients that enable the medicine to do what it is supposed to
- Uses of the medicine describe what the medicine is for
- Directions for use explain how to use the medicine properly, such as how much to take and how often
- Warnings tell you when you shouldn't use a medicine
- Declarations of some substances and ingredients that must be on the label, such as potential allergens.
Be aware that prescription medicines may have different things on the label. Extra information may also be applied to a medicine package by your doctor or pharmacist.
You can find more information about the critical health information and the other important things on medicines labels by reading our page what’s on my medicine label.
Making labels clearer
To make the important information about a medicine easier to find, in 2016 we changed the rules for medicine labels. All medicines made from 1 September 2020 must follow these new rules.
Mostly, these changes improve the prominence and organisation of the information on medicine labels. For example, the active ingredient of a medicine must be prominently displayed next to the brand name of a medicine.
Another important change is that more allergens, such as crustacea, fish, eggs and tree nuts will need to be included on the labels of non-prescription medicines. Prescription medicines may also list these allergens on the label, or may display a statement that allergen information can be found in the Consumer Medicines Information.
Also under these changes most over-the-counter medicines will display their critical health information in a consistent table.
For more information, visit our better medicine labels page.
Always check the label
Not reading the medicine label is like piloting your hovercraft into Zion, only to put on a blindfold when you enter the dock. Maybe nothing will happen. Or maybe you’ll crash and alert the machine sentinels, endangering the human resistance.
But if you read your medicine label carefully and follow all the instructions, you’ll have a power that even The One didn’t when he chose the red pill: you’ll know what your medicine is, and what it can do.