What is Self-Medication ?
Self-medication is the treatment of common health problems with medicines especially designed and labeled for use without medical supervision and approved as safe and effective for such use.
Medicines for self-medication are often called ‘nonprescription’ or ‘over the counter’ (OTC) and are available without a doctor’s prescription through pharmacies. In some countries OTC products are also available in supermarkets and other outlets. Medicines that require a doctor’s prescription are called prescription products (Rx products).
A headache, fever, cough, cold, acidity — these are some of the common ailments which prompt most individuals to self-medicate. And so we use medications such as antibiotics, analgesics, cough syrups and other over the counter (OTC) medicines. But, what many are unaware of is the fact that self-medication can land you in trouble especially when you take prescription medicines without consulting a doctor and sometimes even OTC medicines.
Here are few do’s and don’ts for self-medication when it comes to common ailments such as fever, cough, cold, acidity, headache, and constipation.
Paracetamol for fever
Paracetamol is one of the common over the counter medicines used to treat fever. However, in certain cases, this medicine can cause allergies. The dosage of this medicine varies from person to person depending upon the weight. So a dose recommended for an adult is not suitable for a child and vice versa.
The overdose of this medicine can lead to hepatotoxicity (liver damage). So if you are taking any OTC medicine that contains paracetamol and have visited your doctor, then do inform your doctor about the same. This is because, if your doctor prescribes a combination medicine that contains paracetamol, then it can lead to the drug overdose.
Using paracetamol in children can be tricky, especially while calculating the doses. Do consult a clinician for appropriate dose calculation for your kid which in most cases is based on the weight of the child.
Antibiotics for a cough and cold
Antibiotics, used to treat bacterial infections, should ONLY be taken on prescription. Moreover, if you treat a cough or cold, which is caused by a viral infection, then taking antibiotic might not provide you with any respite. So to know if you have a viral infection or bacterial infection, you need to visit a doctor.
Do not share your antibiotics with any of your family members or friends. Also, always discard leftover antibiotics, if any, and don’t preserve them for future use. Always complete the course of your medication as prescribed without fail. Do not take antibiotics with milk as it may hinder the absorption of the active compounds of the antibiotic. Do not skip antibiotics or discontinue them without asking your doctor. Do not stop taking antibiotics if you start feeling better. Antibiotics can interfere with certain medications like oral contraceptive pills, so inform your doctor beforehand if you are taking any other medications.
Laxatives for constipation
Laxatives are medicines which soften the stools and improve the bowel movement, thereby relieving constipation. Some laxatives can interfere with the absorption of certain antibiotics and cardiac medications. So be cautious if you are on these medications and are planning to take laxatives. They are a strict no-no if you are suffering from kidney disease or heart disease.
The use of laxatives in pregnant and breastfeeding women should only be considered after consulting a doctor. Laxatives do not aid in weight loss, so stop taking these medicines to lose weight. It is important to know which type of laxatives you are taking. Generally, fiber-based laxatives are considered safe as compared to others. Do not take laxatives daily as it can lead to dependence and worsen the condition.
Antacids for acidity
These drugs neutralize the stomach acid and help relieve heartburn, acidity, and indigestion. Antacids should be taken with food or after meals for effective results. The dose of this medicine for adults and children is different, so check with your doctor for the right dosage. Moreover, some antacids are not recommended for children. Certain antacids contain sodium so if you are suffering from high blood pressure, these antacids might not be a right choice.
Pregnant women and breastfeeding women should consult a doctor before taking antacids. Also, if you are suffering from liver disease, kidney disease, or heart disease, it is best to ask your doctor as certain antacids may not be safe for you. If you suffer from any side-effects such as stomach pain, diarrhoea, flatulence, constipation, or vomiting, do consult your doctor immediately. Do not take antacids on a regular basis or for a long-term as it is not recommended. Ask your doctor if you want to take it despite its complications.
Painkillers for headache
Most of the painkillers are available over the counter, which makes it easily accessible. But this doesn’t mean that every time you have a headache, you pop a painkiller. It is advised to use painkillers only when necessary and do not take more than the recommended dose.
Whether you have a chronic headache or an episodic headache, do not overuse painkillers. The type of painkiller used to treat a headache might vary from person to person. So never use the same medicine as prescribed for your friend or family member. An overuse of the painkillers can lead to a chronic headache. If you experience any side-effects, do not forget to consult your doctor.
When it comes to using painkillers for any bone or muscle pain — from body aches to period pains — it is always better to ask a doctor.
Is it safe to self-medicate?
Self-medication can lead to some potential health risks such as:
-Inappropriate usage (wrong medication to treat the disease)
-Incorrect dosage (overdose can worsen health)
-Allergic drug reactions
-Complications due to use when contraindicated
-Masking of underlying conditions
Hence, it goes without saying that self-medication can be extremely dangerous to health. Moreover, it can also make a condition severe or aggravate an illness. To prevent complications due to self-medication, it is always advised to consult a doctor to diagnose the condition and get treated.