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Consumer Reports decode over-the-counter flu medications

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CINCINNATI - It's one of the worst flu seasons in years, but trying to figure out a good over-the-counter medicine to take can make your head spin.   Consumer Reports can help you decode treatments for the flu and other ailments. 

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

Ultra-strength Tums have 100 percent more of the active ingredient than the regular version.  But Gas-X ultra-strength has 125 percent more of its active ingredient.

"The point is you really have to read the label in order to know how much you're taking," said Dr. Lipman.

Claims like "all day" and "long acting" are tricky, too.

All-day Aleve lasts up to 12 hours. But this all-day medicine lasts 24 hours.

With drugs that promise to relieve multiple symptoms, like a cold, flu and sore throat, you could end up taking something you don't need.

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

If you take another medicine that contains one of those ingredients, you might wind up taking too much.

Consumer Reports said the best option is choosing a single ingredient drug whenever you can, like ibuprofen for aches and pains or acetaminophen for a fever or headache.

When in doubt, check with a pharmacist for help understanding over-the-counter drug labels.

Consumer Reports said drugs that say "P-M" or "non-drowsy" can be confusing also.

If the label says P-M, it probably contains an antihistamine that'll help you fall asleep. But if the label says "non-drowsy," don't assume the drug will help you stay alert. Only some have caffeine or another stimulant that'll keep you awake.

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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