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5 self-care strategies to help you get better when you’re sick

We’re overwhelmed with the range of ways to take care of our own health issues, so we asked an expert for their tips.

Karen Burge
August 2019

Browse the aisles of any health food store, pharmacy or even the local supermarket, and you’ll see no shortage of products claiming to ease your ailments. From supplements and salves to pills and personal care products, the possibilities for treating your health concerns yourself seem endless.  

Knowing how to look after yourself when you’re sick is just one part of 'self care'. It also includes what you do to prevent accidents or illness in the first place, like eating well, exercising and simple things like washing your hands.

5 tips to managing your own care safely

‘It’s a positive thing when people take ownership over their health,’ explains Dr Chris Moy, GP and president of the Australian Medical Association in South Australia.

But whether you’re treating a niggle with an over the counter (OTC) product or managing something more serious, professional guidance and regular preventive health checks, like blood pressure, are always important.

1. Read the labels

According to the NSW Poisons Information Centre, the hotline receives daily calls from people who have made a medication error at home. Research shows that 80% of Australian adults and 40% of kids have used OTC medicines in any given month; and each year, about 60% of adults take at least one complementary medicine. So it’s important to know what you’re taking, the correct dose and frequency, and whether it’s safe to use if you have other medical conditions or are taking other medications.

‘For example, a lot of tablets contain paracetamol and some people end up accidentally doubling up. Your cold and flu tablets might contain the ingredient, you have your normal paracetamol alone, then you have your newer anti-inflammatory paracetamol combinations – and people are taking them together. You can end up with paracetamol toxicity [caused by excessive ingestion of paracetamol resulting in abdominal pain or nausea through to liver failure] if you aren’t careful,’ Dr Moy explains. ‘You do need to read the packets.’ Check with your pharmacist or GP if you’re unsure.

2. Get advice before taking supplements

Some OTC supplements and natural medicines might interact with others, or with medications you’re taking, warns the NSW Poisons Information Centre, so before you take them, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

‘I’ve seen situations where people are taking so many supplements they’ve actually blocked the effect of their medications. For example, blood pressure tablets can be affected by overdoing certain types of foods and supplements,’ says Dr Moy.

Your GP can help you work out what’s good for you and what might do you harm.

Dr Moy believes ‘the best way to avoid getting sick is to exercise, eat a balanced diet and practise good hygiene.’

3. Choose your treating doctor over Dr Google

Some people rely too heavily on online resources for medical information and tips. While educating yourself is a good thing, you need to go to reliable sources, and your treating health professionals can give you tips on the right places to learn more about your health.

Credible groups for treatment information include the Heart Foundation, Diabetes Australia and Jean Hailes for Women's Health.

4. Don’t let things drag on

If you’re feeling unwell or experiencing ongoing health issues then see your GP. ‘If something is persisting, you need to speak to your doctor and get advice,’ says Dr Moy.

5. Manage chronic conditions

Research shows up to 80% of cases of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, and more than one third of cancers, could be prevented if people actively looked after their health by doing things like avoiding smoking, an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and too much alcohol.

Living with a chronic condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, can also be an opportunity to think about the ways you can improve your health and wellbeing. But you need a good balance between what you do for yourself and medical care, and this involves getting good advice, says Dr Moy.

He adds that it’s great to see people take ownership of their health. Just be sure to get good advice, stay in communication with your doctor and have intermittent checks and proper screenings when it’s recommended.

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