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Dos and Don’ts of Over-the-Counter Medicines Every day, six million people in Britain visit pharmacies and a million people ask for advice about symptoms of heartburn and haemorrhoids, corns and constipation. Not only that, more than £580 million a year is now passed over the counter for cough, cold and sore-throat remedies, general and topical analgesics, indigestion and stomach-upset remedies, laxatives, acne treatments, vitamins, eye-care products, anti-diarrhoeal medicines, hay-fever treatments and so on and so on …

In every pharmacy an average minimum of 50 people a day will buy an over-the-counter medicine. That’s almost three-quarters of a million people a day in Great Britain, so as you can see that self-medication plays a major role in modern health care.

People visit a pharmacy instead of arranging a doctor’s appointment for many reasons, including convenience, informality and cheapness (most OTC medicines cost less than the current prescription charge). But there are important guidelines you must follow if OTC medicines are to be used safely. Always ask your pharmacist for help. Always read the label or packet. This will tell you how much medicine it is safe to take, and when and how to take it. Taking a lot of medicine at once does not mean it will work better or faster, and it can be harmful. If you do take too much medicine, get help quickly – from your doctor, local hospital or chemist – but don’t delay. If need be, call an ambulance. Take extra care when you give medicine to children, and always keep medicines out of their reach. Be particularly careful when other children are in your house. Never let children play with medicines or even empty medicine bottles. If you are pregnant, or think you may be, never take medicines without consulting your doctor. Always consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking an OTC medicine if you are already taking medication or have a medical condition. Never take an analgesic within four hours of having taken one, even if it is of a different type or brand. Tablets or capsules can stick in your throat, so take them with plenty of water while sitting or standing up. Swallow capsules whole, unless you are told to open them up. If you buy a suppository, unwrap it and follow the instructions. You use it by pushing it into the anus (back passage). A pessary is for use in a woman’s vagina (front passage). Remember, your pharmacist is an expert on medicines, so always ask for advice if you are not sure what to do. Some medicines may cause drowsiness. If affected don’t drive or operate machinery and avoid alcoholic drink. Alcohol or other medicines may change the way your medicine works. Aspirin should not be given to children under 12 except by medical advice. There appears to be some cpnnection between young children taking aspirin and developing Reye’s Syndrome – a rare condition (affecting only about seven children in a million) which causes brain inflammation and liver damage. It is not even certain that aspirin is directly implicated, but the possibility is enough to make doctors decide that it is not normally worth the risk. Paracetamol is a safe alternative as a painkiller. Don’t keep old medicines in your home. Flush them down the toilet, or ask the pharmacist to destroy them for you.

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