Self Care and Self Medication

Self-care is a broad concept which encompasses any action you take for your physical, mental and emotional health.

What is Self Care/Medication

Self-care is a broad concept which encompasses any action you take for your physical, mental and emotional health. It can include

  • Treatment for a minor illness with minimal supervision from a healthcare professional

  • Taking a healthy, well-balanced diet

  • Exercising regularly

  • Finding appropriate methods to relax after a stressful event

Self-care is becoming more popular due to its perceived convenience and the potential to save both time and money.

Self-medication is the safe and responsible selection and use of medicines by individuals to treat self-recognized illnesses or symptoms.

Related: Self-Care Is Important Too

When Should I Not Self Medicate?

Self-medication should only be practised for minor illnesses. Cases, where you should not self-medicate, include

  • Chronic health conditions such as Asthma or High Blood Pressure. Such patients should have regular follow-ups with their doctor to ensure their condition is under control. These medications may also cause severe side effects if the dose is not carefully adjusted.

  • Bacterial infections. Consultation with the doctor is required to ensure that the appropriate medication is chosen, one that is effective and will not cause harm.

  • Some populations eg. Infants, Children, Elderly, may be more sensitive to side effects or may require special dosing for their medications. Seeking advice from a healthcare professional is highly recommended.

Related: Medication, Dispensing & Counselling

Seek immediate medical care if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms ( this list is not exhaustive):

  • Blue/purple discolouration of lips

  • Change in level of consciousness or senses (including vision, hearing, taste)

  • Chest pain

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Fever of unknown cause for more than 24 hours

  • Pain and/or blood on urination

  • Paralysis of face/arms/legs

  • Persistent bleeding/bruising with unknown cause

  • Persistent or severe vomiting

  • Signs of infection/inflammation (i.e. - pus, swelling, redness, tenderness, heat)

  • Yellowing of skin and/or eyes

Related: Aches and Pains

What Kinds of Medication can be Obtained for Self Medication

There are 3 classes of medication in Singapore

Over the Counter (OTC)

These medications can be readily obtained without consulting a doctor or pharmacist. They generally have few side effects and can be safely used, by the average adult, without monitoring from a healthcare professional.

Pharmacy only (P)

These medications can be obtained without a prescription, but only at a pharmacists counter. Identification must be presented for recording purposes. These medications require more caution but can be safely used with further advice from the pharmacists.

Prescription only medication (POM)

These medications require a doctor’s prescription. They are either supplied from a clinic/hospital, or you may use a valid prescription to purchase it elsewhere. The conditions they treat usually require close follow up from a doctor. These medications may also have more side effects, or greater risk of adverse drug reaction when not used correctly.

For accurate information about the class of a medication, ask a pharmacist or check the Health Science Authority of Singapore.

Related: NUH myMeds

What Kinds of Illnesses can be Treated with Self Medication

Several minor illnesses may be treated with minimal supervision from a healthcare professional. These are usually commonly encountered illnesses with little or no risk of permanent injury.

The following is a list of common illnesses which can be treated with self-medication. However if your symptoms persist after 1-2 weeks, or worsen, stop self-medication and consult with a doctor:

  • Allergic rhinitis, cough and cold

  • Acne

  • Cold sores

  • Constipation/Diarrhoea

  • Dandruff

  • Dry eyes, conjunctivitis

  • Gastritis

  • Hair loss

  • Minor wounds

  • Motion sickness

  • Smoking cessation

  • Topical fungal infection

  • Vaginal thrush

  • Warts

Related: Common Childhood Conditions — Coughs and Colds

What Do I Need to Know About My Medication?

Whether you are self-medicating or taking medication prescribed by a doctor, knowing more about your medication can empower you to practice safe and effective self-care. This can either be done by reading the labels and patient information leaflet attached, or by asking a healthcare professional.

Lack of accurate information may lead to drug-drug, drug-supplement or drug-food interactions, over or under dosage, and risk of potential adverse drug reactions.

Here is some of the more important information to take note of:

  • Brand name of the medication

  • Name of its active ingredients

  • What the medicine is used for and how it works

  • Warnings and side effects

  • Any interactions the medicine might have with food, other medicines or supplements

  • How to use the medicine properly

  • How to store the medicine properly

Related: Know Your Medication

The Patient’s Medication List

Whenever you consult any healthcare professional, it is vital to have an accurate, updated list of medications you are currently taking. This list is known as the Patient’s Medication List (PML).

Not only does this list facilitate communication between the different healthcare professionals you may visit, this list contains vital information for healthcare professionals seeing you for the first time.

A PML should include the following information

  • Two identifiers eg. name and IC

  • Chronic medical conditions

  • Any drug or food allergies. Description of the allergic reaction

  • Medication/supplement/vitamin name (brand name and active ingredient), strength, dosing instructions, and reason for use

  • Date last updated

Bring the most updated PML with you at every visit to the clinic, hospital or pharmacy and show it the relevant healthcare professional even with seemingly mundane actions such as purchasing vitamins.

Where Can I Find Out More?

Any further inquiries can be directed to your doctor, or to a community pharmacist.


Information provided by this patient information leaflet is solely for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information for diagnosis or treatment of a health problem or disease. Always speak with your physician, pharmacist or other healthcare professional before taking any medicine or supplement, or adopting any treatment for a health problem. Under no circumstances will Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore be liable to any person for damages of any nature arising in a way from the use of such information.​

Prepared by the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore, updated July 2016.​


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