A lot of people play doctor when it comes to relatively minor ailments, for example, when chilly and damp weather brings on a cold or the flu. Instead of consulting a medical specialist, they simply reach into their medicine cabinets for a remedy – and its associated risks and side effects.
In a recent survey, one in four respondents in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg alone, with a population of about 10 million, said they had taken a non-prescription medicine at least once a month. Experts have mixed feelings about this seemingly widespread practice.
“Self-medicating without guidance and blindly ordering medication off the internet can be dangerous,” warns Josef Kammermeier, vice chairman of the Bavarian Pharmacists’ Association (BAV), adding that pharmacists’ role is that of a filter: “We separate supposed miracle cures and quackery from responsible drug use.”
Self-medication – along with the “chronification” of pain and cannabis as a supposed cure-all drug – was a topic at the 2017 German Pain Congress.
Among the attendees was German Migraine and Headache Society president and University of Munich Neurological Consultation Service director Dr Stefanie Foerderreuther. “It’s imperative that someone who has frequent headaches go to a doctor,” she says. “This prevents the pain from becoming chronic.”
Kammermeier also emphasises that headaches shouldn’t be self-medicated for long. “Exercise, a cold facecloth, fluids, a pressure massage and peppermint oil can also help,” he notes. He adds that it’s important that people be made clearly aware of the limits of self-medication.
Pharmaceutical companies recognised long ago that people tend to treat ailments such as a runny nose, cough and hoarseness themselves, and correspondingly, sales of over-the-counter medications such as pain-relieving drugs and allergy medications are booming.
Over-the-counter drug sales are being fuelled in developed countries by populations that are increasingly old and overweight – with the resulting health complications.
“The extent of self-medication has grown ever since the public health insurance companies no longer reimburse customers for most non-prescription medications available in pharmacies,” points out Kammermeier, who warns that “over-the-counter” isn’t synonymous with “harmless”: “Every medication has desirable and undesirable effects.” – dpa