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Health > First Aid > Proprietary Medicines


It’s not necessary to run to your doctor every time you have a minor ailment - a suitable medicine, available from your pharmacy, may be all you need.

Some people use their doctors unwisely: they queue for hours in a crowded surgery to seek advice about minor ailments which would clear up quickly of their own accord, or which they could treat themselves with the aid of their local pharmacist. These patients may feel resentful if their doctors do not give them prescriptions-although all that may be necessary to cure the ailment are a few days in bed with hot drinks and aspirin.

It makes sense, therefore, for minor complaints such as headaches and indigestion to seek the advice of your pharmacist first. If he feels that you should see your doctor straightaway he will certainly tell you to do so. Otherwise he may advise you to let nature take its course or suggest an appropriate medicine which you can but over the counter.

Of course, if the trouble persists you should certainly see your doctor. And you should not continue treating minor disorders yourself if they occur frequently: instead consult your doctor to determine the cause. It may be something that needs medical help or it may involve a change of life-style such as a more sensible diet and more frequent exercise.


When you but medicines from your pharmacist you must always tell him if you are suffering from a medical complaint since some preparations may be unsuitable for your condition. It is also absolutely essential to tell him of any other medicines or pills that you are taking, whether they were prescribed for you or bought over the counter. Some medicines, when mixed together, may be dangerous and the pharmacist will be able to prevent you making such a mistake. Certain other medicines, when taken together, produce the effect of a double dose: they may all have the same drug as their base, which can create risks. So even if you are only buying something for indigestion check first with the pharmacist that it is safe to take the preparation with the cough mixture that you bought the day before.

Always tell the pharmacist if you are pregnant. He will almost certainly tell you not to take any medicine, even the mildest, without consulting your doctor first. We still don’t know enough about the effect of many drugs taken by the mother during pregnancy and it is better to play safe.

It is also sensible to ask the pharmacist’s advice on special preparations for children. Make sure you follow the instructions carefully. It is even more dangerous to exceed the stated dose with children than with adults. And make sure that you lock away all medicines after use, whether prescribed by your doctor or bought over the counter.


People are often puzzled as to which medicines they can buy over the counter and which can only be obtained by prescriptions. The answer is that certain drugs considered either dangerous or unsuitable for general use can only be obtained through a prescription. But the doctor is free to prescribe any medicine he feels is appropriate for treatment and many of these can also be bought over the counter.

You will probably have noticed that there are some remedies which you can buy in ordinary shops and supermarkets. These are considered relatively safe and include, for example, mild cough mixtures, indigestion tablets and small quantities of aspirin. It is obviously convenient for people to but these products, but they should do so only if they know and have used the product before on their doctor’s or chemist’s advice, and if they are not already taking any other form of drug.

There are also a number of medicines that do not necessarily need a prescription but are thought to be too powerful to be on general sale. These medicines can be bought only from a pharmacy because they need to be sold under supervision. The important point here is that the pharmacist is present and aware of each sale. He will intervene and refuse to sell a medicine if he feels that it is going to be used for the wrong purpose, or more usually, will offer advice if he feels that its use may be inappropriate.


It makes sense if you always use the same pharmacist. This way you can build up a good relationship and feel comfortable about asking for advice. Even more important is the fact that the pharmacist will get to know you and your family. It he dispenses prescriptions written by your doctor he will know something about your condition and will be able to advise whether an over-the-counter medicine is suitable one for you.


Many people are so worried when they see the doctor that they are not always able to take in all he says. The pharmacist will be happy to tell them what the medicine should do, how they should take it, and any side-effects which are likely to crop up.

Some preparations, even those you can buy over the counter such as antihistamines, do have strong side-effects; though these may affect one patient more than another. Always ask the pharmacist about these. If you are advised not to drink, smoke, drive or operate machinery while taking the medicines, don’t. It could be dangerous.

If when you are taking a medicine, whether prescribed or bought over the counter, you notice a side-effect such as drowsiness or a rash of which you were not warned, be sure to tell your doctor or pharmacist. You may need to change your medicine and your information may help give an idea of the drug’s effects.

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