IN A DEVELOPED country like Britain most of the conditions the majority of us suffer from are self-limiting – they get better on their own. Among the common ones are colds, flu, gastric upsets, coughs, aches, strains, sprains, sore throats -even verrucas. While rest, possibly in bed, relaxes the body and keeps the patient at an even temperature, it’s the body’s own defences which deal with the infection or inflammation – the cause of almost all the conditions or their symptoms.
But even though most of us realise that it’s just a matter of time before we recover from the nastiest cold or stomach upset, few can resist the temptation to try and hurry the process along or to relieve the pain or distress of the symptoms. So we treat ourselves with the tried and trusted remedies that have been used for generations and can be bought ‘over the counter’ (OTC). And powerful ‘cures’ many of them are, too. They often rely on the best of the plant-derived remedies of old. Aspirin, for example, which came originally from the bark of a certain type of willow tree, remains one of the best all purpose painkillers, temperature-reducing agents and anti-inflammatory agents available.
Some over-the-counter medicines can be bought in a supermarket, but all of them are available at the chemist’s -the shop with the big difference where medicines are concerned. There, all medicines are kept or overseen by a professional pharmacist. He or she knows about and can advise on any of the medicines that are sold – or dispensed, when you hand in a doctor’s prescription.
Fortunately, we are all getting healthier in Britain, so with every year that passes the pharmacist’s role becomes more important. It is to the pharmacist that we should turn for everyday medical queries – as, in a way, we have done for centuries. The drug-dispensing apothecary of old was the forebear of both the modern-day family doctor and the pharmacist. While the family doctor specialises in diagnosis and takes overall professional responsibility for the care of our more serious illnesses, the pharmacist has the direct care and control of the medicines we take on a day-to-day basis.
Making the Most of your Pharmacist A pharmacist’s training involves three or four years of study, followed by a year’s practical work under supervision. After this, their knowledge of the way drugs act upon the body and interact with each other – and the potential side-effects of them all -is considerable. Community pharmacists – the official name for retail pharmacists or chemists – are therefore highly qualified professionals. They are also available throughout shop opening hours, so your local pharmacist is probably the most accessible member of the healthcare team to whom you can go for free advice. Unfortunately, not many of us take full advantage of their expertise.
Most simple ailments don’t need a prescription medicine. So if you don’t feel well but don’t think it’s worth bothering your doctor, go to your local chemist and ask if you can speak to the pharmacist. He or she is trained to know when medical help is necessary, so if you are advised to go to the doctor, do so. Often, however, reassurance and an over-the-counter remedy will be all you need – and this guide is designed to help you understand the wide range of over-the-counter remedies available.
But there are certain basic precautions you must always take. Make sure you tell the pharmacist if you are already taking any medicines and if you are sensitive to anything. If you are asking advice about a child, always mention their age. If the pharmacist sells you some medicine, make sure you know how it should be taken and for how long, and follow the instructions precisely. Never exceed the recommended dose, unless it’s on medical advice.
It’s also worth mentioning here that the pharmacist and doctor act as a team when dealing with prescription medicines. It’s part of the pharmacist’s job to check that details on the prescription are correct before supplying it, make sure medicines are labelled properly and instructions fully understood. People are often nervous when they consult their doctor and may therefore not be quite clear about the treatment prescribed. They may also forget to mention any non-prescription medicines they are taking. You can always ask your pharmacist about anything you do not understand and check, if necessary, that your medicines will not react badly together. If you notice symptoms that you think may be due to a medicine’s side-effects, the pharmacist will be able to tell you whether or not this is likely and advise you accordingly.
Pharmacists can also give advice on such things as immunisations for holidays abroad, headaches, stomach upsets, colds and coughs. They know, for instance, that different types of cough require quite different medicines, and will make sure you buy the right thing. Indeed, many of the more effective non-prescription medicines can only be supplied under the supervision of a pharmacist, so you need have no fear of being advised by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
Certain medicines can be supplied either on prescription or over-the-counter. The over-the-counter price is sometimes cheaper than the prescription charge and it is worth asking your pharmacist’s advice on this. New regulations mean that medicines are now often dispensed with information leaflets which include details of any side-effects that may occur. This knowledge could mean that more people expect to experience side-effects and therefore do so. In this case, the pharmacist is just the person to give advice or reassurance.
Many chemist shops now have a quiet area where you can talk to the pharmacist privately. On-the-spot pregnancy tests, blood-pressure checks and more recently, checks for cholesterol (blood fat) levels and general health and dietary advice are often available.
Most people will find it helpful to get to know their local pharmacist and build up a good relationship. To young mothers and the elderly in particular, a friendly pharmacist can be a valuable source of knowledgeable advice and support.
Homoeopathy No one has so far been able to explain why homoeopathy works, as it does not conform to our accepted knowledge of scientific medicine. This method of giving medicines was first developed nearly 200 years ago by Dr Samuel Hahnemann, a great German physician, scholar and chemist. Appalled by the existing medical practices which he believed often did more harm than good, he sought a method of treatment which would be safe, gentle and effective. Since then many thousands of people throughout the world have had their symptoms relieved thanks to homoeopathy and even the Queen is said to carry a ‘first-aid kit’ of Homoeopathic Remedies
with her on her travels. Homoeopathic medicines are widely recognised as a safe and effective alternative to conventional medicines.
Derived from the Greek word homoios, meaning like’, homoeopathy’s basic principle is that like cures like. Symptoms are treated by giving a minute dose of a substance which, if given in larger quantities to a healthy person, would actually cause those symptoms. Even in conventional medicine this principle is sometimes used – for instance, controlled doses of radiation are given to cure cancer which can be caused by too much radiation.
Over the years ‘provings’ have been carried out on many hundreds of substances by giving minute doses to healthy people and carefully noting the symptoms produced. Homoeopathic Remedies
are now based on these provings. The success of the treatment largely depends, homoeopaths say, on correctly matching the remedy to the individual’s symptoms; other factors such as the patient’s personality, home environment and work, which may have a bearing on the illness, can also play an important role in the choice of treatment. There are around 2,000 homeopathic remedies, each with several uses, so it is fortunate that computers can now be used to help in the matching-up process.
Visiting a homoeopath can be a lengthy business. He or she needs to build up a picture not only of your illness, but also of your personality and lifestyle, down to the tiniest detail of your favourite foods and even your reaction to weather! Homoeopaths believe that symptoms – for example, a raised temperature, running nose, diarrhoea or vomiting – are the body’s way of trying to rid itself of whatever is responsible for the illness. They also believe in the body’s natural ability to heal itself. A homoeopath will therefore aim to give a remedy which will encourage this process, whereas conventional doctors prescribe medicines to suppress symptoms – aspirin, for instance, is used to bring down a temperature, or antihistamines to dry up a runny nose.
Some Homoeopathic Remedies
are similar to herbal medicines in that they are derived from plants, but many come from minerals such as gold, carbon, silica (sand) and phosphorus, or animal products such as bee stings or snake venom. Another class of remedies, called nosodes, are derived from disease tissue, bacteria or viruses, and are used as a form of vaccination against allergies and some illnesses or inherited conditions.
The methods of preparing Homoeopathic Remedies
and dosages are quite different to those used in herbal medicine . In homoeopathy, different ‘potencies’ of medicine are achieved by diluting, to varying degrees, a ‘mother tincture’ made from the initial substance. At each stage of dilution the mixture is thoroughly shaken – a process known as succussion.
T-ess is more’ is another basic principle of homoeopathy. In other words, contrary to what one might expect, the more dilute the solution, the more powerful its action will be. Medicines are graded according to this potency. The greater the dilution, the higher the potency number given to the remedy. So, for example, a homoeopathic remedy labelled 12c, which has been diluted 1,200 times, is of a lower potency than one labelled 30c, which has been diluted 3,000 times. 200C is a higher potency still.
The bottle or tube of medicine will have a number indicating its strength. Over-the-counter preparations will probably be 6c or the stronger 30c, though homoeopaths may prescribe higher. Homoeopaths find that high potencies – when only one dose is necessary – are better for some conditions and lower potencies, perhaps used for longer, better for others. Any potency above 12c will be so diluted that no particle of the original material can be found on chemical analysis – so how, people naturally ask, can it possibly have any curative effect?
The honest answer is that no one knows, though one theory is that a form of radiation energy is released which stimulates the body’s own healing mechanisms. Homoeopaths point out that we do not understand how many modern drugs work, but we do know that a few have unpleasant side-effects. Even though some of the substances from which Homoeopathic Remedies
are made, such as arsenic and mercury, would be poisonous in larger amounts, in homoeopathic doses they are harmless. But with homoeopathic treatment the symptoms will sometimes become worse before they improve.
Homoeopathic medicines can safely be taken in pregnancy – for early morning sickness, for example – and a child could swallow a bottle of most homoeopathic pills with no ill effect. It is possible, however, to have an unpleasant reaction to some remedies if they continue to be taken once the symptoms have gone.
Many homoeopaths are qualified doctors who have done a further year’s training in homoeopathy. They may become Gps or work in homoeopathic hospitals (there are only about three of these in the UK), in which case their treatment is available on the NHS, or they may consult privately.
The advantage of consulting a medically qualified homoeopath is that he or she is trained in diagnosis and able to prescribe conventional medicines such as antibiotics when necessary. Most homoeopaths agree that life-threatening conditions are better treated with conventional medicines.
If you consult a homoeopath who is not also a doctor, make sure he or she has done a full homoeopathic training at an approved college: there are some charlatans about.223.