People may be overdosing on prescription drugs because the instructions are so poorly printed on labels that they are misreading them.

The print on the label on bottles and capsules is often too small, and doesn’t follow any of the basic rules of typography that make words legible and clear, say researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

It’s a problem because most people taking prescription drugs are older and whose eyesight may be poor.

In one survey, the researchers asked 45 pharmacies to print off instructions, but 44 per cent of them used print that was smaller than 12 point, most centred the words, making them harder to read, and the words in almost every case were poorly spaced.

Source: Canadian Pharmacists Journal, 2014; 147 (3): 179