Tips on when to self-medicate and when to seek medical care

Are you feeling unwell? Are you still experiencing symptoms after trying some form of treatment? The following tips will help identify your options and encourage you to speak with your pharmacist before you try any new medications.


Tip 1: Consider your options:

  • Do nothing (wait-and-see approach)
  • Use non-medicated form of treatment (such as warm compress, bed rest, good hydration)
  • Speak with to your pharmacist before self-medicating with prescription or non-prescription products
  • Seek immediate medical care

Tip 2: Seek immediate medical care if you are feeling any* of the following signs:

  • Seizures
  • Chest pain
  • Severe pain
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Paralysis of face/arms/legs
  • Persistent or severe vomiting
  • Yellowing of skin and/or eyes
  • Pain and/or blood on urination
  • Blue/purple discolouration of lips
  • Fever of unknown cause for more than 24 hours
  • Persistent bleeding/bruising with unknown cause
  • Change in level of consciousness or senses (including vision, hearing, taste)
  • Signs of infection/inflammation (i.e. - pus, swelling, redness, tenderness, heat)

  • *Note: This list is not exhaustive

Tip 3: Ask yourself the following questions to assess your own symptoms:

1.    Do my symptoms require urgent medical care?

If the answer is “yes” (could be due to some of the signs in Tip 2), consider seeking immediate medical care.

If the answer is “no” consider waiting, and speak with your pharmacist before you self-medicate.

Example: One day of runny nose (may resolve on its own) vs. one day of difficulty breathing (seek immediate medical care).

2.    What symptoms am I experiencing?

Ask this question to identify your options and the most appropriate treatment (if any).

Example:  Are you experiencing symptoms that include sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes or rash? Ask your pharmacist whether your symptoms are ones of allergies - they may or may not require a prescription and are available as tablets, liquids, nasal sprays, eye drops, skin creams, and injections.

3.    When did my symptoms start? Do they come and go? Are they persistent?

Ask this question to identify the cause and severity of the symptom.

Example: Rash appeared after trying a new cream, cleanser, or detergent (potentially causing the symptom).

4.    What factors make my symptoms better or worse?

Ask this question to avoid the triggers that make it worse, and implement the therapies that make it better.

Example: Symptoms are worsened by pollen – avoid it during seasonal allergies and implement good hydration for your cold.

Tip 4: When you visit the pharmacy, come prepared by bringing a list that includes:

  • Your allergies
  • Your concerns, goals, and questions
  • Your symptom history (onset, severity, location)
  •  Your medical and family health history (past and current)
  • Your current medication list (prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins, herbs, supplements, sprays, drops, topicals, etc.)
  • Your lifestyle factors (use of caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, etc.)
  • Your laboratory results, if known (blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, etc.)

Tip 5: Always read the medical ingredients, strength, uses, warnings and directions on the product label. However, when in doubt, always ask your pharmacist!

Tip 6: While speaking to your pharmacist, ask the following questions:

  • What over-the-counter (OTC) medications are available for the specific symptoms?
  • How often should this medication be taken?
  • For how long should this medication be taken?
  • When should this medication start to work?
  • How much of this medication should be taken?
  • Are there other medications that should be avoided with this medication? (i.e. – Prescription, over-the-counter, herbs, vitamins, supplements, sprays, drops, topicals, etc.)
  • Are there any side effects of this medication and what is the best management?
  • What lifestyle changes can be made? (i.e. – Does it involve a change in diet, caffeine, exercise, smoking, or alcohol?)

Your pharmacist is a critical member of your healthcare team.

Work with them to make the most of your pharmacy visit and to gain control over your own health!

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