Using prescription and over-the-counter medications safely and effectively
Drugs must always be used with care, and you should be especially careful if you give them to children. It is important that you understand how the drugs you are taking are likely to affect you. Drugs must also be stored safely.
How are drugs obtained?
Some drugs may be bought over the counter, but others require a doctor’s prescription. When buying an over-the-counter (OTC) medication, it is always wise to consult a pharmacist to make sure you are buying a remedy that is effective and is suitable for you.
Using drugs safely
Read the instructions carefully and discuss anything you do not understand with your doctor or pharmacist. Find out whether the drug is likely to affect everyday tasks, whether you should take the drug with food, and what you should do if you miss or exceed a dose.
When you discuss your treatment with a doctor or pharmacist, let him or her know if you have recently taken any other medications, including any complementary remedies. If you are planning a pregnancy, consult your doctor before starting treatment.
Taking drugs correctly
When taking tablets or capsules, swallow them with plenty of water so that they do not become stuck in your oesophagus. If you are taking liquid medicine, shake the bottle before use to mix the ingredients thoroughly, and measure the doses carefully. Devise a routine for taking the correct doses at the correct time.
Make sure that you complete the full course of any treatment, even if your symptoms seem to have disappeared.
Dealing with side effects
Seek medical help if you develop any unexpected side effects or symptoms that seem unrelated to your illness while taking either prescription or OTC drugs. If you have a severe reaction to a drug, such as difficulty in breathing, call for urgent medical attention. If you have a mild reaction from a prescription drug, see your doctor as soon as possible. If you have a mild reaction from an OTC drug, stop taking it and consult your doctor.
Taking long-term medication
If you need drug treatment that continues for a long time, you may be given a prescription that can be renewed without visiting your doctor each time. Never stop taking your medication suddenly without consulting your doctor.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using any additional drugs, including OTC drugs and complementary remedies. If you need hospital treatment, tell the staff which drugs (prescription, OTC, and complementary remedies) you are taking.
Giving drugs to children
It is normally simpler to administer liquid medicine by syringe or dropper (see Giving a child medicine). Older children may be given tablets, but if you need to crush them first, check with the pharmacist that this will not affect absorption. A child who dislikes medicine can hold his or her nose. Have a pleasant drink ready for afterwards.
How should drugs be kept?
Follow storage directions to prevent drugs from deteriorating. Always keep medicines out of reach of children, preferably in a locked cabinet.
Do not keep medicines beyond their expiry dates and always dispose of drugs carefully.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.