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Self-Medicating: How Practical or Dangerous Can It Be?

Self-Medicating: How Practical or Dangerous Can It Be?

Mother and Daughter recovering at home

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Filipinos have been self-medicating left and right. While most of them know that what they are doing can be dangerous if done without a medical professional’s input, a lot of them do it anyways because it is either too expensive to consult a doctor or there simply aren’t any doctors available in the area.

From home remedies, like herbal treatments, to popping over-the-counter (OTC) drugs like paracetamol, people have been choosing to self-medicate for various reasons. Whether it’s to address the common cold, a wheezing cough, or loss of taste and smell, covid anxiety is real and it’s causing families to act on their own.

What is Self-Medication?

Self-medication is a practice where people take drugs or other substances without medical supervision, for the purpose of preventing or treating illnesses and their symptoms. In the case of COVID-19, it refers to using paracetamol or any other over-the-counter medicine in order to keep oneself healthy amidst the pandemic conditions.

Filipina self medicating at home
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Why Do Filipinos Choose to Self-Medicate?

It is important that people get their regular health check-ups to make sure that they are free from any diseases, but with the constant downpours and high temperatures due to climate change, life has become harder for Filipinos. Poverty, accessibility to healthcare, and lack of accurate information are just a few other reasons. Because of this, many choose not to visit a doctor when they feel sick or even if they just don’t feel all that well.

Self-medication in the Philippines, at its core, serves as the first course of treatment in many families. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when hospitals in the country are close to full capacity and as localities carry out their own iterations of a lockdown to prevent the surge of cases from rising any further.

It is not just the heavy traffic or transportation that makes it hard for Filipinos to go to the doctor’s office, but also the fact that they are simply too busy. Most of them can’t afford to miss work for one day, let alone several weeks spent in a hospital bed. This is why they prefer trying out new drugs or medicine on their own, by taking it according to the instructions written on the package. However, this can be extremely dangerous and unforgiving, especially during a time like COVID-19 where there is much uncertainty.

As of 2019, there have been nearly 63,000 deaths due to pneumonia, while as of today, the WHO has tallied 52,907 deaths due to COVID-19 in the Philippines. With paracetamol and other over-the-counter medicines widely used to treat respiratory illnesses, it is possible that some of these deaths could have been prevented.

For the layman, OTC drugs like paracetamol come with the notion that they can be taken liberally. However, it can be toxic to the liver, which can lead to overdosing, as 4000 mg per day (given that the person has a healthy liver) is the limit.

A lot of people believe in alternative treatments instead, such as drinking hot water mixed with ginger extract or steam inhalation. But this isn’t exactly a good replacement for actual medicine; not only because it hasn’t been proven to cure or prevent any diseases, but also because it has the potential to cause more harm than good. The Department of Health, for instance, does not recommend the use of ivermectin (an anti-parasitic drug), for COVID-19.

With over-the-counter medicines widely available in pharmacies and grocery stores nowadays, people have been purchasing them to the point where drugstores find themselves short of paracetamol and other flu medicines. This makes Filipinos even more vulnerable to COVID-19 compared to other countries where access to healthcare is much more difficult for the public.

Sick person resting at home
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

How Dangerous Can Self-Medicating Be During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

It is also important for people to understand that non-prescription medicine may still contain harmful ingredients and chemicals, and some of these can even worsen the symptoms of COVID-19. For example, taking cold medicine when already sick with COVID-19 can cause problems like hypertension or heart failure.

Because of this, it is important that people learn self-discipline and responsibility as soon as possible; rather than giving in to their curiosity and buying whatever products they think might help them out. They need to understand that the best solution for COVID-19 is through prevention and treatment, like taking proper hygiene and sanitation measures.

Self-medicating is dangerous in this type of scenario where there are so many unknowns about COVID-19, given the new Omicron variant spreading across the globe and with mutations expected to come along in the future. It can put individuals at risk, instead of helping them get better.

It isn’t just the risk of overdose that makes it dangerous, but also what could happen when individuals continue to use these products even when they’re not recuperating. If a person only feels a little bit better after taking medicine, they might think it is enough and choose not to see a doctor. However, this could be the result of the COVID-19 virus or bacteria mutating, which can cause serious complications if not treated right away.

In fact, several hospitals have been forced to put up quarantine areas because of the increasing number of admitted patients with COVID-19. They become overwhelmed, and they lack facilities to accommodate all these people.

Another reason that self-medicating is dangerous is because it can be quite costly in the long run; even if medications are to be available at a low cost, this means nothing when an individual gets sick for weeks or months. They might end up spending more than what they can afford, not to mention that this may affect their careers or other responsibilities.

It’s important to understand that with COVID-19, it is still best to consult a healthcare professional before taking any medications or supplements. This helps prevent addiction and dependence on the drug being taken, as well as reduces the risk of overdoses and complications arising from incorrect intake of medicines. Self-medicating is indeed dangerous without proper medical supervision.

In cases where self-medicating seems inevitable, at least make sure that the medicines being taken are the ones being prescribed by a doctor to help with respiratory illnesses. It is also important to closely monitor children and senior citizens, as they might be more prone to possible side effects from taking these medications.

Woman in a Pharmacy
Photo by Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

Commonly Used Drugs for COVID-19 Self-Medication

Due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19, there has been a surge in demand for paracetamol. This is despite the fact that not much is known about how COVID-19 affects the body chemistry and it may further complicate health problems.

See Also

Take ibuprofen, for example, as the WHO initially advised against its use to treat the symptoms of COVID-19 like pain and fever. But now, they no longer advise against its use.

Cold and cough medicine has been making a comeback despite the risks of addiction, as these are often used to suppress the coughing caused by the virus or bacteria. Aspirin is also being sold at a low cost to prevent pain and fever brought about by COVID-19.

There have been reports of pharmacies running out of stock for these drugs. They might require a prescription, but some pharmacies have been suspected to sell these items without prescriptions or doctors’ advice.

In the Philippines, other drugstore purchases like Vicks VapoRub may also be helpful to alleviate symptoms, but should not take the place of real medical care. Home remedies are growing to be a norm, but for any unorthodox herbal treatments, it is safer to think that before taking anything, it must be prescribed by medical professionals to prevent further complications.

People need to understand that proper care for COVID-19 is possible, especially when they take the necessary precautions and seek assistance from qualified medical personnel. Self-medication can be useful in some cases, but extreme caution should still be observed when taking these medications. All the risks associated with self-medicating must be considered before the decision is made.

There are still a lot of things unknown about COVID-19, and with a healthcare system that is failing its people, getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, and observing health and safety protocols is the only recourse that the people can do.

Seek Medical Advice Prior to Self-Medicating

Self-medication might seem practical, yes, but it can be dangerous during a pandemic, where there seems to be no end in sight. It can even worsen existing symptoms or lead to other conditions. Ensuring that the proper medications are taken under medical supervision is important to prevent addiction or dependence on drugs that might not necessarily treat COVID-19.

Even with the availability of some over-the-counter medications, taking these for a long period of time without proper supervision can still affect a person’s ability to provide for their loved ones, as well as their own health.

It is best that individuals seek medical advice first before self-medicating, not only because it protects them from addiction or overdose, but also because this facilitates more accurate diagnoses and treatment of respiratory illnesses. After all, are we not supposed to trust the experts?

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