By Amber Naureen

Hazards of Self-Medication

Prevention is better than cure but if cure is really needed then a sensible, correct and proper regimen must be considered. People generally avoid visiting clinics for common ailments and use Over The Counter (OTC) drugs – for which no prescription is needed – not realizing that commonly used drugs can also lead to  hazards  if use for longer period or in wrong quantities.  The response to drugs varies from individual to individual so it is not a good idea to use the same medication for the same medical problem for different individuals.

OTC Drugs 

Inappropriate use of an OTC drug for chronic or severe illness may worse the existing condition. Since an OTC version has a substantially lower amount of active ingredient in each dose, it cannot effectively cure a chronic condition. People who seek a medicine for a chronic disease must consult a physician before purchasing any OTC drugs. In such cases, drug use is beyond the normal boundaries of self-care and requires the advice of an expert.

A Common Mistake

The most common mistake made in selecting an OTC drug is neglecting its interaction with other drugs, or food or even with other dietary supplements. People don’t know that many OTC drugs and medicinal herbs can interact adversely with a wide range of drugs. Some of these interactions can be serious, interfering with the effectiveness of a drug or causing side effects. For instance, Aspirin, a common analgesic, can reduce the efficacy of the drugs that use in the treatment of severe heart failure (drugs like Capoten or Enalapril).

Antibiotic tetracycline may be ineffective if swallowed with milk or other products containing iron, calcium and magnesium. Always tell your doctor if you are using any multivitamin if he/she prescribes you an antibiotic.

The best way to reduce the risk of drug interactions is to ask your pharmacist to check for them. Additionally the doctor should be told about all the drugs being used, both prescription and OTC.

Overlapping Drugs

Another potential problem is drug overlap. OTC products used to treat different problems may contain the same active ingredient. Unless people read labels on everything they take, they can accidently overdose themselves. For example, a person who takes a sleep aid and a cold remedy, both of which contain diphenhydramine, may take double the dose considered safe.

Many products contain acetaminophen. A person who simultaneously takes two different products that contain acetaminophen- one for a headache and another for allergies or sinus problems may exceed recommended dosage.


Another serious problem is self-diagnosis which leads to wrong drug selection. For example heartburn, indigestion and sour stomach are a few of many terms used to describe digestive upset. Self-diagnosis of indigestion is risky because it causes vary from a minor dietary indiscretion to peptic ulcer disease or stomach cancer. Sometime symptoms of heart disease resemble acute indigestion. If symptoms last longer than 2 weeks, people should see their doctor.

Be More Cautious

It is very necessary to be careful while selecting an OTC medication for an infant, older patient and pregnant women. A child’s body responds to drugs differently as compared to an adult’s. The correct dosage selection for an infant is also very tricky, and medically it should be according to total body weight of the child, so never guess the dosage for infants. According to recent research, the effectiveness of cold and cough remedies is unproved, especially in children. So usage of such drug may expose the infants’ body to harmful effects and can be a waste of money.

Similarly older people are likely to have more disease and they tend to use more medications, making them more susceptible to side effects. Having no special instruction about older people on the labels of OTC drug may lead to more harmful adverse effects. For instance, most seniors frequently use analgesic or anti-inflammatory drug for arthritis, this may tend to develop bleeding peptic ulcers which is life threatening. Similarly antihistamine containing drugs (like cough and cold remedies, and sleep aid remedies) may cause blurred vision, light headedness, dry mouth, and difficulty with urination, constipation, and confusion in older people.

Also one have to be very cautious in selecting a common medication for pregnant and breast feeding mothers. Most drugs are likely to cross the placenta and may harm the fetus and also can transfer to the baby through breast milk. Women should avoid all kind of drugs including aspirin and non-potential vitamins during pregnancy and should consult their health care practioner before using any OTC regimen.

Have a safe and healthy life, every one.

About the author:

Amber Naureen is a trained Pharmacist from Karachi, Pakistan where she was also was in charge at the pharmacy of one of Pakistan’s leading hospitals.  Currently a resident of Brampton, she is enjoying her life as a homemaker, being mommy to her three adorable children.

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