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Pharmacist warns against regular non-prescription medicines to treat recurring symptoms

Self-care medication is only intended for minor, temporary ailments that don’t usually require a doctor’s consultation. Picture: File image.

Self-care medication is only intended for minor, temporary ailments that don’t usually require a doctor’s consultation. Picture: File image.

Published Nov 9, 2023


Non-prescription medicines can be helpful for occasional, short-term use. But it could be a concern if patients find themselves frequently resorting to self-care medication for the relief of problematic symptoms, a pharmacist has warned.

“Recurring symptoms often lead people to seek quick relief through self-care medications, but it's crucial to understand when these symptoms could indicate an underlying health issue that needs professional medical attention,” Medipost Pharmacy pharmacist Timothy Ngobeni explained.

He added that self-care medication is only intended for minor, temporary ailments that don’t usually require a doctor’s consultation.

“Having a headache once in a while or experiencing mild common symptoms for a few days is not unusual, and there are medications your pharmacist can recommend for relieving the discomfort,” Ngobeni said.

And as with any medication, the pharmacist insisted that its vital for self-care products to only be taken as directed.

“Do not take medication for longer than is recommended, usually a maximum of 10 days, without seeing a doctor,” Ngobeni said.

He added that the danger of taking non-prescription medicines for an extended period is that they could mask symptoms that require diagnosis and treatment.

“This is particularly important in the case of recurring urinary tract infections, fungal infections and persistent pains.”

Ngobeni said recurring or chronic pain can take various forms, including headaches or joint pain. Pain relievers like paracetamol or ibuprofen are commonly used to manage mild to moderate discomfort, but he warned that pain can be a symptom of many deeper health problems.

“It is therefore essential to seek medical advice if the pain persists or worsens, as there could be an underlying health issue that requires proper diagnosis and management.”

Ngobeni advised visiting a medical doctor if:

– The pain continues or gets worse, even with pain relief medication.

– You have other symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, or weakness.

– Your daily functioning is difficult due to pain.

– Your pain doesn’t improve with rest or self-care remedies.

Urinary tract infections

A urinary tract Infection (UTI), is a common bacterial infection of the urinary system, including the bladder, kidneys, ureters, and urethra, Ngobeni said.

He added that symptoms include needing to urinate often or suddenly, a painful or burning feeling when urinating, and urine that is cloudy or smells bad.

The pharmacist said that often the pain and discomfort caused by UTIs can be relieved with non-prescription medications like flavoxate, but if the symptoms persist or you notice any of the following signs, it’s crucial to consult a health-care professional:

- Severe or persistent pain while urinating.

- Blood in the urine.

- Fever or chills.

- UTI symptoms start again shortly after completing a course of antibiotics.

- Pain in your side or back, which could be a sign of kidney infection.

- Experiencing persistent exhaustion or a lack of energy that doesn't respond to self-care remedies.

Fungal infections

Itchy or peeling skin are symptoms associated with common fungal infections that can affect the skin, nails, and mucous membranes, Ngobeni explained, adding that common types include athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm.

“Although self-care antifungal medications such as clotrimazole and terbinafine are often used to treat these infections, it is important to consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist,” he said.

“Recurrent fungal infections might indicate an underlying condition, possibly an immune system disorder or diabetes, requiring specific treatment.”

He recommended making an appointment with your doctor or clinic if you notice:

– It’s getting worse or not improving despite using non-prescription antifungal medications.

– The infection spreads to other body parts.

– You have a fever or flu-like symptoms.

– Pus or fluid oozes from the area.

– Severe itching or pain gets in the way of your daily activities.

– The fungal infection comes back soon after using antifungal medication.

Ngobeni added that disclosing health concerns or symptoms to a medical practitioner is confidential and their job is to offer guidance.

“Always let your doctor or pharmacist know if you have been on any treatment, prescription medicine and for how long,” he advised.

He encouraged patients to prioritise their health and well-being by reaching out to health-care professionals if they experience any symptoms that are unexplained or keep returning.

“With medical attention, illnesses can be effectively managed for improved quality of life, optimal health and wellness,” Ngobeni said.