GREENSBORO, N.C. — When you get a prescription the pharmacist makes sure you understand how to use the medicine. They'll even give you a cheat sheet sometimes. But when it comes to over the counter stuff, sometimes there is no pharmacist to help you. But there is a cheat sheet. And Consumer Reports has it. Let's start with Fast-acting/Rapid Release. These are going to release a large amount of the active ingredient into your body, quickly. Use this if you need urgent relief. 

Extra or maximum strength usually means there's more of the active ingredient than in the regular strength formula. But it doesn't tell you how much you should take. Check the back of the package.


Dual action medication has two or more ingredients with different actions. That can help with multiple symptoms like fever and congestion. Just make sure to read the active ingredients so you don't double up on one by mistake, especially if you're taking other medications. 

And here's some common misconceptions. Timed release and long-acting mean two different things. The FDA defines Timed release as a product that releases small amounts over a set period of time. Long-acting products have a longer time between doses. You'll probably take fewer pills over a 24-hour period.

And remember Non-drowsy means it won't make you sleepy, but it won't help you stay alert.  

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