The active ingredient refers to the chemical compound in the medicine that works with your body to alleviate your symptoms. Inactive ingredients are simply the ingredients that are used to preserve the medicine and give it characteristics such as flavor, color, and consistency. Inactive ingredients have no effect on the body.
The active ingredient is the most important thing to look for when taking any OTC medicine. It helps you figure out WHAT it is you’re taking. The Drug Facts Label, required by the FDA on most OTC medicines, will not only tell you what the active ingredient is, but also how much of it is in each dosage form. The active ingredient is always printed at the top of the label so it’s easy to find. While each section of the label is important, this particular section of the label will be the most helpful in determining how many of your medicines contain acetaminophen and if you are in danger of overdosing.
If you are taking more than one OTC medicine at the same time it’s important to check to see if any of them contain the same active ingredient. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in more than 600 OTC and Rx medicines, such as OTC cold and sinus medicines, and allergy medicines. Taking the recommended dose of several products that contain acetaminophen at the same time could easily result in an overdose.
Remember that acetaminophen is in many prescription medicines as well, and is often abbreviated as APAP on prescription drug labels.