Why self-medication is harmful to your health



How often have you been tempted to take non-prescribed antibiotics? If the answer is often, then you could well be getting into the habit of self-medication.

Self-medication is defined as the selection and use of medicines by individuals (or a member of the individual’s family) to treat self-diagnosed conditions or symptoms. 

Many educated people feel it is fine to pop a pill without a doctor’s instructions. However, this well-meaning gesture is not without side-effects, and can wreck your system.

This article explores the most commonly abused over-the-counter medicines and their potential side-effects.

Pain killers 

Pain killers are drugs used to relieve pain. Most of them belong to a class of drugs called non-steroid anti-inframmatory  drugs, which control inflammation, fever and mild pain.

“Taking them without consultation, buying them repeatedly using the same prescription, taking a double dose for quicker relief or using the left-over medicines for similar prior symptoms can put people in trouble,” says Dr Juliet Tayebwa, a Mbarara University of Science and Technology physician. 

If misused, pain killers can cause ulcers and bleeding in the stomach, acidity, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, dizziness, rashes, and headaches.

Dr Tayebwa advises that one would rather use a hot or cold compress, exercise, physiotherapy or rest, as advised by your doctor, for relief from mild pain, instead of taking non-prescribed drugs.

Cough syrups 

These are medicines used to treat coughs. They are of two types: those used for dry coughs, called cough suppressants or antitussives, and those which help a cough with phlegm are expectorants. Since a lot of the cough syrups are alcohol-based, when abused, they are likely to cause a pounding or uneven heartbeat, dry mouth, nausea, stomach pain, constipation, dizziness, blurred vision, drowsiness, ringing in the ears, restlessness, confusion and reduced concentration .

The United States National Library of Medicine recommends the use of honey with warm water to soothe a cough, or sipping plain water every few minutes, if you have a sore throat.

It is further advisable to see a doctor for advice on relevant treatment.


Antibiotics are drugs used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Usually, one’s immune system can fight bacteria and stop them from multiplying enough to cause an infection. However, sometimes one’s immunity is low and unable to control an infection, and so antibiotics are used.

“The fact that a competent immune system can control many infections should be reason enough for people not to consume antibiotics regularly and let their body work in a natural way,” says Dr Ivan Magoba, a herbalist researcher in Jinja. 

If swallowed haphazardly, antibiotics can lead to allergic reactions like swelling of the lips, face, and tongue, loose stool, inflammation of the large intestines especially among the elderly, and vaginal infection in women caused by growth of fungus due to suppression of the ‘good bacteria’.

So, it is always wise to seek medical advice so that the doctors can use their knowledge and experience to decide which drugs, you might need.