And that’s not even taking into account all of the germs and flu season lurgies our bodies have to fight off!
But boosting your immune system with vitamins or supplements or popping a pill to boot the headaches might not be the safest thing to do. And mixing medicines without checking whether they’ll interact is a big no-no.
Medicines are substances used to treat health conditions, and to promote health and prevent disease. They come in all shapes and sizes and can include tablets, pills, capsules, injections, implants, drops, syrups, creams or ointments, among other things.
NPS MedicineWise Medical Adviser Dr Jeannie Yoo says: “it’s important to remember medicines are not just prescribed by a doctor – they include over-the-counter medicines from a pharmacy, supermarket or other store, as well as herbal remedies, vitamins and other supplements.
"But more importantly, medicines can have side effects, and can interact with other medicines if you are taking multiple medicines. Each year more than 230,000 Australians are hospitalised with problems caused by their medicine, and if medicines aren’t used correctly, the results can be serious," explains Dr Yoo.
Pregnancy and medicines: A hard pill to swallow
Pregnant women may face times when using a medicine may be optional – and times when it’s a must. For example, if you have mild nausea, or get a head cold, or a sore throat, you may decide to manage the symptoms without taking a medicine.
On the flipside, medicine may be essential if they are needed to manage a long-term condition like asthma, diabetes, depression, or seizures. Without the medicine the health of the mother and baby may be put at risk.
The safest bet: when you are pregnant, always talk to your doctor or health professional about using any medicines before taking it.
Medicines to avoid during pregnancy and while you are trying to conceive
There are some medicines that are generally avoided during pregnancy. Medicines that cause harm during pregnancy do so in three main ways.
- Some are transported across the placenta and can interfere with the baby’s development.
- Others can damage the placenta and restrict the amount of nourishment delivered to the baby.
- Some can bring on premature labour, which may result in the baby being born before its lungs and other organs are fully developed.
Generally, medicines are most likely to cause harm during the first three months, when the baby’s organs are forming.
But, to be medicinewise, it’s important to ask questions as you plan your pregnancy, and at all stages of pregnancy to make sure you get the right amount of information about medicines.
Medicines and breastfeeding: what’s safe?
When you’re breastfeeding, it’s important to remember that the medicines you take may pass into your breastmilk, so weigh up the potential benefits and risks first.
The most commonly used medicines, such as paracetamol and hay fever preparations, are relatively safe for breastfed babies. The dose received via milk is generally small and much less than the known safe doses of the same medicines given directly to neonates and infants.
Often, when breastfeeding, the medicines passing into breastmilk will be so low that they won’t present a risk to your baby.
Medicines to avoid while breastfeeding
There are a few medicines that are not recommended to be taken while breastfeeding as they pose a risk to your baby. These include anticancer drugs, lithium, oral retinoid – medicines related to Vitamin A --amiodarone – a medicine to help manage irregular heartbeats, and gold salts – a type of medicine that treats rheumatoid arthritis.
It may be essential to continue using a medicine: such as when the medicine helps to manage a long-term condition like asthma, diabetes, depression, or seizures. You should tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are planning to breastfeed, so they can advise whether you breastfeeding is the best option for you and your baby.
Your medicinewise checklist
Ask questions: Get the information you need about medicines to make better informed decisions. For example, ask, how do I take the medicine, when do I take the medicine, are there common side effects?
Know it’s a medicine: Don’t be fooled by the ‘herbal remedy’ label - medicines include over-the-counter medicines from a pharmacy, supermarket or other store, as well as herbal remedies, vitamins, supplements and prescription.
Know the active ingredient: Active ingredients are what make your medicines work. When your pharmacist offers you an alternative brand of a prescription medicine, it will always have the same active ingredient as the one on your prescription or in the medicine you usually take.
Follow instructions: Always follow instructions from your doctor or pharmacist and read the labels and packaging of your medicines carefully. For more detailed information, read the Consumer Medicine Information leaflet which is available for prescription and some pharmacist-only medicines.
Keep track of all your medicine: Keeping track of your medicines, dosage and time taken is not only essential for pregnant women and women trying to conceive, but for the whole family. Download the free Medicinewise app from the App store and Google play onto your smartphone, so your medicine list is always with you. Or write a paper medicines list and store it in your handbag. Keep your medicines list with you, especially on visits to your doctor, pharmacist or the hospital .
Be Medicinewise Week is 20–26 August - encouraging Australian families to make good decisions about medicines, medical tests and other health choices.
Find more information about medicines, including 'How to be medicine wise with children', at nps.org.au. Or call the Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm AEST. To report a problem with medicines or vaccines, call the Adverse Medicine Events Line on 1300 134 237. And don't forget to download the free MedicineWise app.