Preparing a First Aid Kit for Home or Travel

W. Steven Pray, Ph.D., R.Ph., Professor of Nonprescription Products and Devices, School of Pharmacy, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Weatherford, OK

US Pharmacist. 2001;26(6) 

In This Article

Problems That Should Not Be Self-Treated

Patients often ask about health problems that are potentially serious and should not be self-treated. It is incumbent upon the pharmacist to refer these patients to a physician for proper care.

Ear pain is most likely due to otitis media. Any topical nonprescription product would not penetrate the tympanic membrane, and would be unable to reach the source of the problem. Untreated otitis media can lead to permanent hearing loss and compromised speech. Use of a nonprescription product may soothe the outer ear canal, temporarily masking the pain, but allow the morbid condition to proceed unchecked. Patients should be referred to a physician for oral antibiotic/ antibacterial therapy.

A patient's toothache can be caused by many things (e.g., an impacted tooth, an abscess, referred cancer pain, sinusitis), but is often the result of an exposed nerve due to decay. While there are several nonprescription products that promise to relieve tooth pain (e.g., Red Cross Toothache Medication), the eugenol in them can further damage an exposed nerve, and one should strongly advise against them. Even selling oral analgesics can give patients the idea that their use will avoid a dental visit. Instead, the patient should make a dental appointment to discover the cause of the pain. If the patient sees a dentist quickly enough, the dentist may be able to salvage the tooth. If the patient waits, the tooth may require extraction or a root canal.

It is extremely common to have a bout of gastroenteritis that causes vomiting. Perhaps a family member had it and spread it to other family members. The only type of vomiting that may be safely self-treated is vomiting clearly due to motion sickness. When there is no history of provocative motion, the patient should be urged to see a physician, especially if the vomiting is prolonged, projectile, and/or accompanied by other fluid losses (e.g., diarrhea).


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