Pain, pain, go away

Are you clued in when it comes to painkillers?

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By Amy Wall

Whether it’s a twinge in your back or a headache, reaching for a painkiller is usually our first port of call when we start to get uncomfortable, but are you clued in when it comes to painkiller usage? A new national survey conducted by Solpa-Extra has found that 17 per cent of Irish adults take the strongest painkillers they can when they first feel pain because they believe that they’ll be the most effective. However, doing this isn’t always the best option. Pharmacist Sinéad Ryan gave Woman’s Way the essential information you need to know when using painkillers.

Education about over-the-counter pain medication is essential for people, says Sinead as “a lot of misinformation exists” regarding them.

“This may lead to confusion and even incorrect use of painkillers in some instances, so being armed with the right information is very important. Speaking to your pharmacist or doctor is the best way of educating yourself with reliable, responsible information on painkillers,” says Sinéad.

It’s also important for people to realise that the strongest painkillers aren’t always the most effective.

“Stronger does not mean more effective and the type of painkiller that is best for you will all depend on the type of pain you are experiencing,” says Sinéad.

“Different active ingredients work in slightly different ways and, depending on the source of your pain, one painkiller might be more suitable than another. You can speak with your pharmacist or doctor to find the most suitable pain relief for your symptoms.”

Sinéad says that it’s recommended that people start with the lowest effective painkiller.

“For example, in the first instance a simple paracetamol or ibuprofen-based painkiller. If you don’t experience any relief from your symptoms after the number of days stated in the leaflet, you should go back and revisit your pharmacist or doctor who can recommend a suitable alternative for you.”

As humans we’re naturally adverse to experiencing pain and the vast majority of us are guilty of reaching for the painkillers as soon as the pain hits, but is this the correct way of treating pain?

“If the pain is not improving without painkillers after a few hours, then over-the-counter pain products can provide a useful option for responsibly managing short term or moderate pain, such as headache, migraine, backache, toothache, muscle ache, sore throat and can be used for the relief of fever, aches and pains of cold and flu,” says Sinéad.

“You should return to your pharmacist or doctor if the pain is severe, if it returns after you stop taking the pain medication, if it lasts longer than the number of days listed in the patient information leaflet or if it gets worse over time.”

So can painkillers actually fix pain?

“No, over-the-counter pain medication cannot fix the source of your pain but can help to alleviate your symptoms and allow you to carry on with your day-to-day life. For example, if you have a toothache, pain medication can be used as a temporary measure to give you relief until you can get to see the dentist as dental treatment might be needed to resolve the cause of your pain,” says Sinéad,

“Even if the pain itself gets better when you take over-the-counter pain medication, it is advisable to check the source of the pain.”

When taking a painkiller it’s absolutely essential that you only take it for the advised length of time, as prolonged use can lead to other issues.

“Prolonged or incorrect use of painkillers can lead to other symptoms such as medicine overuse, headaches or dependence. If the pain symptoms return having taken painkillers, or the symptoms worsen over time, it’s important that you talk to your pharmacist or doctor to get further advice,” says Sinéad.

“As a general rule painkillers shouldn’t be used more than three days in a row or for longer than the number of days listed in the patient information leaflet. If you are concerned that you are taking a painkiller for a long time consult with your pharmacist or doctor who can advise you on the correct use and on the symptoms of chronic pain.”

It’s important to note as well that, like all medicine, painkillers can cause unwanted side effects.

“Similar to all medicines including prescription medicines, if misused or if used for prolonged periods of time, painkillers can lead to unwanted side effects,” says Sinéad.

“The best way to avoid unwanted side effects is to follow the advice of your pharmacist who is applying guides for safe use from the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.”

If you’re currently suffering from pain and considering using a painkiller but are unsure about what type you should take, Sinéad offers the following advice:

“The best advice is always speak with your pharmacist or doctor to find the most suitable pain relief for the type of pain you are experiencing. They’ll discuss your symptoms with you and will be able to recommend the most suitable pain relief for your needs. They will also be able to advise you on the correct usage instructions.”

Catherine Devane