Are you using medicine safely? Follow this advice when taking medication

Posted on September 8th, 2016

Medicines can help you feel better and get well when you are sick. But, if you don’t follow the dosage and storage instructions, they can be harmful to your health.

How to use medicine safely

Medicines are supposed to make you feel better when you are sick, but they can also have the opposite effect if you don’t follow the directions for usage carefully. “Some side effects are mild like an upset stomach while others can be more serious like liver damage,” says Mogologolo Phasha, chairman of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association. “When you follow the directions on the medicine label, or from your pharmacist, you get the best results,” he adds.

ALSO SEE: 5 common questions parents ask pharmacists

Follow these tips on how to make sure you use your medicine properly:

  • Follow the directions on the medicine label carefully.
  • If you don’t understand the directions, ask your pharmacist or doctor to explain them to you.
  • Keep a list of all the medicines, vitamins, minerals and herbs you use. Share this information with your pharmacist and doctor.
  • Always complete a course of medication. It takes a certain length of time of exposure to a specific antibiotic or antiviral drug in order to kill the bacteria or virus. “If the medication is not taken for the correct length of time, some of the bacteria or viruses can survive, multiply and cause the infection to recur – meaning you are back where you started. Inadequate treatment can also promote the development of resistance to the drug by the bacterium or virus and the antibiotic or antiviral drug may not work at all,” says Mogologolo.
  • Your script is for you alone. It seems simple enough – you’re sick, a family member or friend has some extra/leftover prescription medication that is just going to waste, so why not take it yourself? This should never be done for a number of reasons:

You may not really need it

“Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections, not viruses – so don’t take leftover antibiotics for your cold, because it’s not going to help. You could end up suffering from side effects such as diarrhoea or a rash. Inappropriate use of antibiotics can lead to increased resistance, making bacteria stronger and harder to fight in the future,” says Mogologolo.

You could become more ill

“There are many different kinds of antibiotics. The best antibiotic for you depends upon the specific illness you have and this decision needs to be made by your doctor. An antibiotic prescribed for someone else might not work for the illness you have and could make it worse by delaying proper treatment and allowing bacteria to multiply,” warns Mogologolo.

Everyone should finish their medicine

“It’s important to finish the course, even once the symptoms have stopped,” says Mogologolo. “Stopping early could allow the dwindling infection to remain, resulting in continued illness, which is why people should finish their own medication and not share it with family or friends.”

Prescriptions are prescribed with one person in mind

“Medications are prescribed for your particular ailment, and they are also dosed for your size and condition. Someone else’s prescription could be completely wrong for you and potentially dangerous,” says Mogologolo.

The potential for negative drug interactions is high

Prescription medicines are powerful and don’t always mix well with other substances in your body. “Mixing certain medications with certain foods, drinks, dietary supplements and other medications can have devastating effects, so randomly taking someone else’s medication can increase this risk,” cautions Mogologolo.

Storing medicine safely

In addition to the proper use of medicine, storing it correctly – and safely – is also important.

  • There are many factors that can damage your medication, including heat, air, light and moisture. Exposing medicines to the wrong conditions can render them ineffective, or even harmful if ingested. “It’s important to remember that where you store your medicines can affect their potency and safety,” says Mogologolo.
  • Every medication has its own recommended storage condition: from room temperature to refrigeration, to freezing. Check with your pharmacist about any specific storage instructions.
  • The majority of medications can be stored at room temperature, in a cool dry place. Examples include a drawer in your bedroom, a cupboard, a storage box or a shelf. It’s best to avoid the bathroom medicine cabinet because the heat and moisture from your shower, bath and basin can damage your medicine.
  • The kitchen is also not a good place to store medicine, since heat from the stove, sink and kettle can cause damage.
  • Always remember to store your medication out of sight and out of reach of children and pets to prevent accidental swallowing.

ALSO SEE: Is your medicine cabinet safe?


Xanet Scheepers

About Xanet Scheepers

Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.