“He who self-medicates has a fool for a doctor.” Have you heard that one? There’s a real danger with home and over-the-counter remedies — do you know what they are?
- You may have misdiagnosed the problem. That may mean that you’re taking medication you don’t need… and the problem is still raging.
- You may have correctly diagnosed the problem but are taking the wrong things. Again, this is a situation where the problem might be getting worse instead of better.
- You may have correctly diagnosed the problem but over-the-counter remedies aren’t strong enough. At best, the problem may be holding steady instead of getting worse.
- The home remedy you choose may interact with other medications you are already taking. Drug interactions can be a dangerous thing, too.
- The home remedy you choose may fix one problem but aggravate another. (For example, some cold medications can raise blood pressure.)
One of the biggest dangers of self-medication is the delay. A minor health issue — that could be cleared up easily with a doctor’s care — may become a major health issue over time. Here’s an example from my own life: when I was in college, I had strep throat. The infirmary at school didn’t test for it, and didn’t give me anything more than cough drops. Within a few days, I developed scarlet fever! While it would have been relatively simple to deal with the strep, the delay in treatment made things much worse.
Confession time: I do care for certain things at home, but they’re things that I know how to treat because I have experienced them time and again (like sinus infections) and I always set a point where I’ll seek professional help. But even then, there’s a danger that I’ve made a wrong diagnosis and am on the wrong track for treatment. That’s why having a “deadline” is a good idea — for example, if I’m treating a sinus infection with sinus rinses but am still showing symptoms after 3 days, I’ll call the doctor. There are other things — like an infected cat bite from work — that I don’t try to treat at home. At the first signs of infection, I’m right there at the doctor’s office.
So how do you draw the line? It’s a tough choice to make. Sometimes finances or simply timing (the office is closed) prevent a trip to the doctor’s office. Tools like online symptom checkers make us think we know what we’re doing, but many times, symptoms can mean a lot of different possible health issues. Some people assume that treating a health issue with herbal remedies makes it “safe” — but some herbs can interact with other medications or impact other health issues.
Personally, I think the best thing you can do is know your own body. If you want to treat problems at home, set a “deadline” when a problem arises, and stick with it. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist about the herbal or over-the-counter remedies you want to try, to make sure they won’t cause problems with other medications or other health issues.
And if you aren’t sure, talk to a health care professional. That is your best chance to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.