Is your neighbour, friend or relative your new-found medical specialist? Taking drugs suggested by non-experts may do you more harm than good, warns Dr Zainab Ikram, dental surgeon, President Estate Clinic, Rashtrapati Bhavan. Mrs Nanda walked into my clinic with a swollen red face. I wondered what went wrong with her that led to such a serious condition. She had called me day before to discuss an unbearable toothache due to a newly-discovered cavity. After talking to her, I gathered that she had taken her neighbour’s advice, who asked her to have a combination of medicines.
She believed it would bring immediate relief to her. Sadly, the combination wasn’t meant for someone with a medical history of severe allergy to painkillers. Instead of seeking an expert’s help, Mrs Nanda took medicines suggested by a non-expert, which landed her into the serious condition called Urticaria with Angioedema, which causes eruption of swollen red patches on the skin.
I have come across a large number of cases recently, where people take medicines ‘prescribed’ by neighbours, friends and relatives. A dermatologist friend also came across a similar case. A woman came to him with a severe case of acne and excessive hair growth on her face, a case that was becoming worse. The cause of her skin woes was that she had used a few topical creams for fairness suggested by her neighbour.
After applying the cream, she noticed pimples and excessive facial hair growth, which kept getting worse, thanks to the presence of steroids in many fairness creams. This can cause drastic skin changes, including making the skin look fairer. But once you stop using the cream, it goes back to its original state. In some cases, the usage of such creams can cause severe side effects such as hair growth or acne, explains the dermatologist.
There are many such examples where people have risked their health by having medicines suggested by laypersons. The reasons for not visiting an expert and relying on a friend or a neighbour’s advice could be financial constraints, or simply laziness - why travel all the way to the doctor’s clinic and wait in a long queue? As if that wasn’t bad enough, the internet has now become a popular source of cures. People use it to search for the cause of their medical problems, and that, in turn, has increased the number of hypochondriacs.
The information may fool you into thinking that you can treat yourself, but you can’t gain the expertise online to be able to self-prescribe medicines or suggest them to others.
People often fail to understand that if a certain medicine worked for one person, it doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone. Medical science is a very complicated field. Doctors spend decades to become successful practitioners. When they prescribe medicines, they study the case, consider their medical history, and rule out dangers of allergic reactions. So, the next time you have a medical problem, don’t rush to your friendly neighbour. She could be well-meaning, but she is not an expert. Be patient, and dial your doctor to fix an appointment.