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Who's best..GP or chemist?; Flu drugs became available on NHS prescription this week. But for most minor ailments, you are actually better off seeing a pharmacist than your GP. Why? Well, it turns out that with five years' training, pharmacists are a lot more than glorified shopkeepers. Here's our guide to deciding when to see your GP and when to go to the chemist.

Byline: CHRISTINE MORGAN

HEADACHES

WHEN TO SEE YOUR GP: If your headache is accompanied by a high temperature, nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness, vision problems or dizziness. These could be signs of meningitis.

WHEN IT'S BETTER TO SEE YOUR PHARMACIST: There's not much point seeing your GP for a straightforward headache as they can only prescribe basic painkillers such as aspirin - and they're cheaper bought over the counter.

Stronger painkillers are available from your GP but they're not prescribed for run-of-the-mill headaches.

Meanwhile, pharmacists have almost 100 different remedies. And unlike prescription painkillers, which only come in tablet form, you can get them as tablets, capsules, effervescent tablets, powders and liquids.

WHAT YOUR PHARMACIST WILL TELL YOU BUT YOUR GP WON'T: Mix paracetamol and ibuprofen if you don't get sufficient pain relief from just one. Be careful not to take too much of either remedy, as paracetamol overdose is dangerous and causes liver and kidney damage. COLDS AND FLU WHEN TO SEE YOUR GP: If your temperature hasn't gone down after 72 hours or you are coughing up yellow or green mucous. You could have a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics. And the elderly, young children and asthmatics may be prescribed a flu drug.

WHEN IT'S BETTER TO SEE YOUR PHARMACIST: As with headaches, don't bother going to your doctor if you have basic cold or flu - it will simply cost you more.

Pharmacists stock about 100 remedies - none of which are available on prescription - that tackle a range of symptoms.

WHAT YOUR PHARMACIST WILL TELL YOU BUT YOUR GP WON'T: If you're taking paracetamol painkillers on top of a cold remedy, check the cold remedy doesn't contain it, too.

SORE THROAT WHEN TO SEE YOUR GP: If you have a temperature and pain in the upper throat, or if there are white spots on your tonsils. These are signs of tonsillitis.

WHEN IT'S BETTER TO SEE YOUR PHARMACIST: There's nothing your doctor can give you on prescription for a sore throat that you can't buy from a pharmacy. Most throat infections are caused by viruses, which means that you can't treat them with antibiotics, so all your doctor can prescribe is soluble aspirin or paracetamol for gargling.

Meanwhile, pharmacists sell lots of remedies, including sprays, antiseptic mouthwashes and gargles. You can also buy lozenges in different flavours. Anaesthetic throat sprays help numb pain - and these aren't available on prescription either.

WHAT YOUR PHARMACIST WILL TELL YOU BUT YOUR GP WON'T: Antibacterial throat lozenges aren't any more effective than ordinary ones, because of the nature of sore throats. COUGHS xyxyxy xyxyxy xyxyxyWHEN TO SEE YOUR GP: If your cough lasts more than two weeks or you're coughing up coloured or blood-stained mucous. You may have a chest infection.

WHEN IT'S BETTER TO SEE YOUR PHARMACIST: Prescription cough medicines are limited to pholcodine or codeine phosphate for dry coughs and simple linctus for chesty coughs.

But there are about 80 remedies in your local pharmacy, including combination cough medicines - for instance, Benylin For Flu is for coughs and a high temperature and Benylin Cough And Congestion is for coughs with a cold.

WHAT YOUR PHARMACIST WILL TELL YOU BUT YOUR GP WON'T: Be careful if you're diabetic or counting calories, as cough medicine contains a lot of sugar. Sugar-free versions are available.

ACHES AND PAINS WHEN TO SEE YOUR GP: As before, if you get pain in the neck and shoulder plus a high temperature. This could be a symptom of meningitis.

If you have arthritis, there are prescription drugs available that are stronger than pharmacy-bought painkillers.

WHEN IT'S BETTER TO SEE YOUR PHARMACIST: If you have something such as occasional backache or a pulled muscle. Go to the doctors and you could end up with a prescription for basic but pricey painkillers.

Pharmacists have a choice of 60 or more analgesic creams and gels, compared with about 10 on prescription.

Some are just as strong as the prescription ones - Nurofen Gel Maximum Strength, for instance, and Feldene P Gel (also available on prescription). However some of these are only available in small tubes - your doctor can give you bigger ones.

WHAT YOUR PHARMACIST WILL TELL YOU BUT YOUR GP WON'T: Buy a small tube of cream or gel from your pharmacy. If you like it, then save money by going to your doctor to get a prescription for a bigger tube.

SKIN PROBLEMS WHEN TO SEE YOUR GP: When there's bleeding or if you're asthmatic. Asthma and eczema are linked, so a skin flare-up could indicate your asthma drugs aren't working. If you have bad acne, you may need antibiotics.

WHEN IT'S BETTER TO SEE YOUR PHARMACIST: Mild-to-moderate skin problems - such as dry skin, dermatitis, acne and fungal infections - are easily treated at the chemist, though this is one area where there are more products available on prescription.

It's still often cheaper to buy an over-the-counter remedy though. A small tube of Hc45, a hydrocortisone cream used for eczema and other types of irritation, is almost half the price of a prescription.

Don't bother your doctor if you have mild acne either, as you can get "prescription remedies" such as Brevoxyl, Quinoderm and Panoxyl cheaper than on prescription.

But with any type of skin problem, if pharmacy medicines don't work and you want something stronger, see your GP.

WHAT YOUR PHARMACIST WILL TELL YOU BUT YOUR GP WON'T: Prescription hydrocortisone creams aren't any stronger than the ones you can buy. You can get bigger tubes on prescription but you may not end up saving money, as you shouldn't use hydrocortisone cream for more than a week at a time.

INDIGESTION WHEN TO SEE YOUR GP: When you have chronic pain in the chest or the pain starts radiating down your left arm. This could be a sign of serious heart problems.

WHEN IT'S BETTER TO SEE YOUR PHARMACIST: If you just have occasional indigestion and want a bigger and cheaper choice of remedies. Pharmacists have access to more than 70 varieties, including liquids and chewable tablets in pleasant flavours.

There are only about 20 prescription indigestion remedies, most of which don't taste very nice. Some, such as Gaviscon and Asilone, are also available over the counter. And they're usually cheaper. Mucogel, for instance, is half the price than if you got it on prescription.

WHAT YOUR PHARMACIST WILL TELL YOU BUT YOUR GP WON'T: Take indigestion tablets an hour before meals, not just before or just after, as they only work on an empty stomach. Most contain sugar, so be careful if you're diabetic or watching your weight. Sugar-free remedies are available.

INSOMNIA WHEN TO SEE YOUR GP: When you've had difficulty sleeping for weeks, rather than days. This could be a sign of depression.

WHEN IT'S BETTER TO SEE YOUR PHARMACIST: If it's sleeping pills you're after, most doctors aren't as willing to dish them out as they once were and you'll probably end up with just a week or two's supply at most.

Pharmacy remedies are designed to be taken in the short-term, too, but they're not as strong as prescription pills, which means they won't make you feel drowsy in the morning. There are only a handful of over-the-counter sleeping tablets, including Nytol and Dreemon, both of which are antihistamine-based and designed to make you feel drowsy rather than knock you out. But they're ideal if you just get the occasional sleepless night or you're suffering from jet lag.

Pharmacies also sell herbal remedies, such as Nytol Herbal, if you prefer something even more gentle. But you can't get herbal remedies on prescription.

WHAT YOUR PHARMACIST WILL TELL YOU BUT YOUR GP WON'T: Insomnia can be a side-effect of ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine, a drug that's used in remedies such as cough and cold medicines.Pharmacist cured my painful attacksFarah Butt has suffered from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for nine years. She lives in South-East London and works in PR.

I had my first IBS attack when I was at university. I saw my GP about it but all he said was that I should have a blood test, which I never got around to.

But the attacks got worse so I went back to him. He prescribed something that didn't work and I didn't bother seeing him again.

Things got so bad that I had to take time off work. I'd get a knotted feeling in my stomach followed by diarrhoea. I remember once having an attack on the Tube. Luckily, the train stopped in time for me to run to a loo...

A friend who also suffers from IBS said I should ask a pharmacist about treatments. The first thing he recommended didn't work but I went back and he suggested Colpermin - capsules that contain peppermint oil. My pharmacist said it wouldn't cure my IBS but it might help to relieve the symptoms.

They worked really well. My pharmacist also suggested I keep a food diary to find out what triggers my attacks and that has helped, too. Since then, I haven't had to take time off work and finally feel that I can get on with my life.

CAPTION(S):

HIGH STREET HELPER: You'll generally find a far greater range of remedies at your chemist and many of them will be cheaper than the cost of a prescription
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Title Annotation:M Health
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 27, 2003
Words:1552
Previous Article:What's up Doc?; DO you have a health question? Write to: M Health, The Mirror, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5AP or email...
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