Home Making

Choosing A Medicine – Swallow It, Chew It Or Rub It On?

Medicines are available in many different forms. Sometimes the same substance will be available as a tablet, a mixture, a suppository or a cream. Choosing the right way to take a medicine can be as important as choosing the right medicine.

There are several criteria to be used when making a selection.

Firstly, if a drug can be applied locally then it should be. The risks involved when a drug is taken orally are usually greater than when it is applied to the skin, for example. So, if an infected wound can be encouraged to heal with a superficial dressing the patient will have avoided the potential risks associated with taking tablets by mouth and exposing the entire bodily system to the action of a powerful drug.

Secondly, the choice of a drug may be affected by convenience. There isn’t any point at all in having a bottle of medicine in the bathroom cabinet and suffering from indigestion in a traffic queue miles from home. However good the medicine is it won’t work unless you take it. So, a box of antacid tablets may be more effective in those circumstances than a bottle of medicine because you’ll carry the tablets with you -they’re more convenient.

Thirdly, there are some types of presentation which make medicines particularly suitable for specific problems. An ointment, for example, may be just right for a very dry and crusty skin condition. A gargle or mouthwash may be the best way to alleviate discomfort in the mouth or throat and an inhalant may be the most effective way to deal with a stuffed-up nose. Choosing the right form in which to take a drug obviously depends, therefore, upon knowing what part of your body you’re treating. An inhalant will be likely to alleviate headaches due to catarrh but it won’t do much to help headaches caused by poor lighting at work.

To help make it easier to decide whether or not a liniment is likely to be more useful than a suppository, or a tablet better than a lozenge,

I have prepared a list of all the commonly used ways of preparing and offering medicines. Read through the list below and then use it as a guide when choosing the right medicine.


For a condition which involves the skin use an application, collodion, cream, gel, ointment, paint, paste or poultice.

For a condition involving the muscles use a balm, liniment, rub or rubefacient.

For a condition involving the mouth or throat use a gargle, insufflation, lozenge or mouthwash.

For a condition involving the lower bowel use an enema or suppository.

For a condition involving the vagina use a pessary.

For a condition which involves the body generally or which requires a medicine to be taken orally, use a cachet, capsule, elixir, granules, injection, mixture, pill, powder or tablet.

Aerosol solid or liquid particles of medicament suspended in a fine spray or mist.

Application any liquid or semi-liquid preparation which is applied to the skin.

Balm an aromatic ointment that is used to help heal a wound or to soothe pain. Balms are commonly used in the treatment of rheumatism.

Cachet a wafer or capsule which contains a medical substance.

Capsule a small soluble container which dissolves in the body releasing the medicine that is contained within it – usually in powder form. The two halves of a capsule are often coloured separately.

Collodion a clear, sticky liquid used to hold wounded edges together, keep dressings in place and seal sterile wounds. If medicaments are dissolved in a collodion their contact with the skin is prolonged.

Cream a medical substance with the consistency of the oily part of milk. Creams spread easier than ointments which tend to leave the skin sticky.

Dusting powder a fine powder which is shaken on to the body like talcum powder.

Elixir a sweetened aromatic preparation of a soluble medicinal substance. Elixirs are given ‘miracle’ properties by those with an interest in their sale.

Emollient an application rubbed on to the body to help soften and relax it.

Emulsion a mixture of two immiscible liquids, one dispersed throughout the other in small droplets.

Enema a solution designed for introduction into the rectum, either to promote evacuation of the bowel contents or to introduce food or medicine or x-ray material.

Gargle a solution for rinsing the mouth and throat.

Gel a jelly-like material.

Granules medicinal pellets which may be taken with or without water.

Inhalation a preparation designed to be drawn into the lungs. If you fill a bowl with boiling water, cover your head with a towel and breathe in the steam rising from the bowl through your nostrils you are inhaling water vapour. (this can help catarrh, etc.)

Injection the introduction of a liquid into the body. Injections can be into muscles, tissues or directly into blood vessels. Strictly speaking an enema is inserted by injection.

Insufflation a powder, vapour or gas designed to be blown into a body cavity – for example, the mouth and throat. Problems can occur if the patient blows back!

Linctus a syrupy medicine designed to be licked up with the tongue.

Liniment an oily liquid preparation to be rubbed on to the skin.

Lotion a liquid preparation for bathing a part of the body.

Lozenge a medicated troche. A troche is a dry, solid, medicated mass intended to be held in the mouth and slowly dissolved in the saliva. It was originally shaped like a diamond.

Mixture a medicinal preparation of two or more ingredients mixed together. Some manufacturers put dozens of different ingredients into their mixtures but frequently none of the ingredients are included in worthwhile quantities.

Mouthwash see gargle.

Ointment a semi-solid preparation for external application to the body which may contain a medicinal substance, e.g. An antihistamine, or an antibiotic. Ointments are greasier, stickier and messier than creams but can be useful on very dry, crusty skin.

Paint an external medicament which is put on with a brush – like any other paint!

Paste a semi-solid preparation, usually applied to the skin. Pastes are firmer than ointments.

Pessary an instrument placed inside the vagina to support the uterus, or a medicated vaginal suppository.

Pill a convenient way to serve up small doses of medicine in a suitable size for swallowing. Pills were originally prepared by hand, the chemist rolling the substance between his fingers with the movement that people use when playing with small pieces of plasticine.

Potion a large dose of liquid medicine. One that needs to be drunk rather than simply taken on a spoon.

Poultice a soft pulpy mass placed hot upon the skin as a counter-irritant to soothe a sore or inflamed part of the body. A hot-water bottle is probably just as good but it’s nowhere near as much fun.

Powder a lot of tiny particles obtained by grinding a solid mass. Chemists used to use a mortar and pestle to make powders. (the mortar is the bowl.)

Rub a substance suitable for rubbing on to the skin .

Rubefacient a substance that reddens and irritates the skin.

Shake lotion a convenient way of applying powder to the skin. The water in which the powder is suspended evaporates, cooling and

Soothing the skin, and the powder is left behind. Obviously it needs to be shaken before use. Calamine lotion is a good example.

Solution an evenly distributed solid available in liquid form.

Spirit a volatile or distilled liquid.

Spray a liquid which is available as a mist – a lot of tiny droplets.

Suppository a medicated solid mass of suitable size and consistency for inserting into a body cavity other than the mouth, e.g. Vagina or rectum or urethra. Pessaries are suppositories which are placed inside the vagina.

Tablet a small amount of a drug compressed or moulded into shape by machine and containing a fixed amount of active ingredient. A tablet may be coated with various substances to conceal the taste or to delay its disintegration and absorption. Most modern pills are, in fact, tablets.

Vapour rub a substance for rubbing on to the skin which gives off a vapour and smells medicinal!

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