I'll never forget as a young kid the first time my mom showed me the trick to opening a pill bottle (weird memory to have, I know). I remember opening a bottle of aspirin, or some pain killer, peeling off the protective seal and seeing a giant cotton ball inside. I don't remember what, if anything my mom told me when asked why it was in there, but I came to expect one each time I popped the top of some new medication bottle.

Well, fast forward 30-some years, and... today I opened a bottle of generic ibuprofen to find a protective seal, but no cotton ball! At first, I didn't think much of it. The seal was there so I knew it was unopened prior. But then I got to wondering, what happened to the cotton ball? Good news: I got some answers.

First off, why was there cotton in the first place?

In order to find out why the cotton ball is gone, first, it would be logical to figure out its original purpose. According to a Readers Digest article on that same question, the mysterious ball o' cotton began appearing back in the early 1900s when Bayer began using them. Why? It prevented your pills from bouncing around in the bottle and possibly breaking. While it was a smart and cheap solution to the packaging problem, clearly it's not needed anymore since my bottle was void of any cotton ball action.

Why the cotton ball has (mostly) vanished

The reason why the cotton has ceased to be in every pill bottle is simple: Pills now have an enteric coating (the almost waxy outside of your pill) on them which helps make sure they don't break apart. Interestingly enough, in my research of enteric coatings, I learned they're mainly used to help protect you from possible stomach issues many pain killers can cause. So there you have it, cotton balls are no longer needed. Bayer actually stopped putting them in their products way back in 1999.

Some pills still have a cotton ball

After what I learned from my rabbit hole-cotton-ball mystery, I also discovered that some drug manufactures still include the cotton ball. Why? Many consumers just came to expect it to be there. I guess I did, so that totally checks out.

Oh by the way, if you still have a cotton ball in your meds, discard it when you first open the pill bottle. It is not needed after opening.

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Anyone else share a sense of humor with a state's Department of Transportation? Just me? Well, every Monday the Iowa Department of Transportation puts up a sometimes hilarious, sometimes straightforward message on their road signs across the state. This is called "message Monday" and Iowa DOT tries to entertain and educate drivers through these signs. Here are just a few of our favorites.


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