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Every week, the Pharmacy Self Care Program (from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia) publishes a Health Care Facts column.  This also appears in the Herbert River Express every week.

For your convenience, they will be published here - feel free to browse back over past editions.


John Bell Column 30 Jan 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –30 Jan 2012



Cold sores – not so cool


Around the time of Valentine’s Day, our thoughts sometimes turn to romance; not quite so likely, perhaps, if you’re affected with a cold sore.

To most people cold sores might seem to be a comparatively trivial condition; but if you are one of the thousands of people who suffer with cold sores you no doubt find them annoying beyond belief.

In warm summer weather, cold sores will be more common.  Dry, burnt lips provide the ideal conditions for a cold sore to break out.

The good news is there are effective products to treat cold sores, and some excellent information from your local pharmacy on how to prevent them from occurring.

Pharmacies which provide Pharmacy Self Care health information have a recently up-dated “fact card” on cold sores.  It tells you all you need to know, and more, about these annoying little skin infections - what cold sores are, how they occur, what medicines help and how best to use them.

Cold sores are caused by one of the viruses from the herpes family, known as herpes simplex (HSV).  There are two types of HSV infections.  HSV-1 usually causes infections on the face, such as cold sores around the lips and nose, whereas HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes.

The so-called tingle is the very first sign of the cold sore. This tingling, burning sensation occurs even before the actual cold sore appears. Topical antiviral preparations containing acyclovir or penciclovir will help if applied frequently and from the first sign of the lesion – that is when the itch or tingle is first noticed.  Severe or recurrent cold sores respond well to oral antiviral medications, some of which are now available without prescription. Check with your pharmacist to see if they’re suitable for you.

When the cold sore blisters burst open and begin to weep, the virus can be easily spread to other people.  Products with an antibacterial effect, such as those containing povidone-iodine, are useful at this stage to help prevent the spread of infection.

Unfortunately, cold sores come back time after time because, as with all the herpes infections, the virus “hides” in the nerve cells in the skin at or near the original site.  A range of triggers can then reactivate the virus to cause another cold sore – as well as sunburn, other triggers can include cold weather, fever, illness, and fatigue; in fact just about anything that puts our immune system under some stress.

There are formulations containing so-called immune system boosters: ascorbic acid, zinc and the amino acid lysine; but there is little evidence to support the use of herbal or vitamin products in the prevention and treatment of cold sores.

We are all exposed to the cold sore virus.  Not all of us, however, will experience an outbreak of cold sores; but if you do get cold sores, then you’re in good company.  You’re one of more than 4 million Australians – more than 20% of our population – who report having repeated attacks.

Cold sores are not the kind of condition that you can kiss better – kissing’s a sure fire way of spreading them around so it’s best avoided.  As yet, there may be no permanent cure for cold sores; but you need to know how best to prevent them and how best to treat them when they do occur.

Phone the Pharmaceutical Society (PSA) on 1300 369 772 to find the nearest pharmacy providing the Cold Sore fact card or log onto the website Click on “Self Care” then “Use the Self Care Pharmacy Finder”.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 23 Jan 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –23 Jan 2012



Sun sense is common sense


It took almost half a century for the health risks of cigarette smoking to be widely recognised. Sadly, some young people, especially young women, still take up smoking – probably because of peer pressure and issues related to low self esteem. Older smokers, who remain smokers, almost certainly do so because of nicotine addiction.

It appears that many Australians are also addicted to another form of high-risk behaviour – that is: excess exposure to the sun. There seems to be a lingering perception that a tan is healthy. But, the reality is unless you’re born with tanned skin, a tan is evidence of skin damage. So, for all of us who have inherited the Anglo/Celtic skin type, protection from the sun is a really important health strategy.

Of course, we know that some sun exposure is healthy. It promotes the process of vitamin D manufacture within our body, and that’s quite apart from our general sense of wellbeing (we don’t feel nearly so happy being confined indoors - or even being outside on cloudy days).

With regard to vitamin D, it’s almost impossible to obtain enough from food; in fact we get about 90% of our vitamin D from exposure to the sun. However, it’s important to strike a balance between sufficient sun exposure for adequate vitamin D production and minimising the risk of skin cancer.

In most parts of Australia – “tank top” (face, hands and arms) exposure for 10 minutes, three or four times a week during the spring and summer months, is ample time. Also, short exposure to sunlight is more efficient at producing vitamin D; so the need for vitamin D is no excuse for getting sunburnt.

Of course the exact amount of sunlight exposure required for adequate vitamin D production is hard to predict. Time of year, time of day, age and skin colour, and whether you live in Port Douglas or Port Arthur will all influence the ideal exposure time.

Remember the adverse effects of sunlight on the skin are cumulative. The damage on and beneath the skin is building up, even without burning. Regular and routine skin protection is essential. The successful “slip, slop, slap” campaign has recently been given added effect with the new Australian/New Zealand standard for sunscreens. The maximum sun protection factor (SPF) rating is now 50+ (previously 30+) and this new standard means testing is applied to water resistance and the broad spectrum feature of sunscreens as well. Your pharmacist can give you more information.

As important as ongoing protection from the burning rays of the sun is to know what our skin normally looks like and to identify any changes – changes that might indicate an underlying serious condition that requires medical attention. Before your skin check, checkout the website .You’ll see why skin checks are so important and actually how to check your skin.

In any event, be proud of your natural skin colour. If you must have a tan, a fake tan is the best option. There are a number of products your pharmacist can recommend which offer a much safer alternative to the sun-induced or solarium-induced variety. But, remember, the colour from a fake tan does not provide protection against UV radiation. And fake tan products that contain a sunscreen only provide protection for a few hours after application – not for the duration of the tan.

You can get more common sense advice and a Sense in the Sun fact card on how to stay sun smart from pharmacies providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information. Phone 1300 369 772 for the location of your nearest Self Care pharmacy or check out the Pharmaceutical Society website at and click on “Self Care” then “Use the Self Care Pharmacy Finder”.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 16 Jan 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –16 Jan 2012



Minimising medicine costs


Death and taxes aside, anticipating the future is an impossible task. Nevertheless, history will often give us a clue as to what is to come.  And so, we’ve come to expect that each January there will be an increase in the cost of Government subsidised pharmaceutical benefit (PBS) prescriptions.

It’s no surprise then that this happened again in 2013.

In fact, the actual cost of the prescription item may not have increased (indeed many commonly used PBS prescription items have decreased in price); but the Government has determined that the component of the medicine cost that we pay - the so-called patient co-payment - should increase; and this increase is generally in line with the CPI (consumer price index).

Of course, for those of us required to take medicines regularly - perhaps for a chronic condition like arthritis, asthma, depression, diabetes, epilepsy or heart disease - the costs might seem overwhelming.

Nevertheless, successive Australian Governments have maintained policies which have ensured we have access to the least expensive medicines in the world - certainly for medicines proven to be both safe and effective. And there are ways we can reduce the cost of medicines even further.

Even at the maximum of now $36.10 per item, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme still offers us pretty good value for money.  Some medicines actually cost many hundreds (occasionally even thousands) of dollars more than the co-payment; and this full cost of PBS medicines is now printed on the dispensed label; an indication of the real cost of each medicine is there for us all to see.

 So, $36.10 is the most you should have to pay (some medicines will cost less than this); and if you have a concession card issued by Centrelink (Department of Social Security) or the Department of Veterans Affairs, the maximum amount payable is $5.90 per prescription item.

It is now well known that some brands of medicines cost more than others and the government subsidises up to the cost of only the lowest-priced brand.  A doctor or pharmacist can give you more advice about this brand price premium and how to avoid any extra charge.  At your request the pharmacist can often substitute a less expensive brand.  Remember all medicines in Australia are required to meet the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA’s) high standards of quality, safety and effectiveness – and the standards are exactly the same for the less expensive and the more expensive brands.

In any event, another way of curbing the cost of prescription medicines is for you to keep a record of spending on PBS prescriptions on a Prescription Record Form (PRF).  If you have all or most of your prescriptions dispensed at the same pharmacy, the pharmacist will be able to keep a computer record of these transactions. 

When you have a record of spending $1390.60 on PBS medicines for yourself and your dependents in a calendar year, the cost of all subsequent items during the year comes back to $5.90 each.  This is called the PBS Safety Net.  It gives reasonable financial protection for patients and their families if they require a large number of medicines.

For concession card holders, the Safety Net threshold is $354.00 – equivalent to 60 items at $5.90 each – after which there is no charge for any PBS item, provided one of the lowest-priced brands is dispensed.

If you want some more advice about the savings you can make with the PBS Safety Net and by choosing the less expensive brands of PBS medicines, ask for the Help with Medicine Costs fact card at your local Self Care Pharmacy.  For the nearest location Call 1300 369 772 or check out the Pharmaceutical Society website at Click on “Self Care” then “Use the Self Care Pharmacy Finder”.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 09 Jan 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –09 Jan 2012



The resolution roundabout


By this time of the year many of us who made New Year’s resolutions will have already relapsed. This is because these resolutions generally involve behaviour change – such things as doing more exercise, eating better and the cessation of smoking – and they’re the most difficult of all changes to make.

Being able to stop smoking is especially difficult. The habit becomes addictive; with the nicotine in cigarettes as addictive as any drug. Even so, the proportion of Australians who smoke has now declined to an all time low of around 15%. Clearly some people are successful quitters; but sadly some young people still start smoking.

As to the reasons why people begin to smoke no doubt peer pressure is a potent factor; and surely the popularity of film and TV shows depicting life in the 1940s, 50s and 60s has at least in some way only served to glamorise the habit.

Interestingly, a couple of years ago an article in New Scientist magazine suggested smokers who watched movie stars light up cigarettes on screen, mentally light up themselves; and research conducted at the Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, confirms earlier work showing that smokers had increased cravings to smoke after they’d watched movies in which actors had smoked.

But, when it comes to smoking, any time is a good time to quit – there’s nothing special about New Year; and regardless how long you’ve been a smoker, it’s never too late to quit.  Studies have shown that for smokers who quit at age 50, the risk of a tobacco related death is reduced by about two thirds; and for those who stop before middle age the risk is little more than for non-smokers.

However, becoming and staying a non-smoker doesn’t happen by accident.  Smokers who plan before they quit are significantly more successful than those who don’t; and planning can be done quickly and easily.  The decision to quit must be yours and yours alone, but to help you plan for long term success you should enlist the support of family and friends.  Your pharmacist can also offer you valuable support.

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is an option worth considering.  These nicotine substitutes help to treat the withdrawal symptoms and cravings which can make it so difficult to quit. A variety of NRT products is currently available in Australia: patches, gum, inhaler, lozenges, mini-tablets and so-called sublingual spray. All these medications are now available from pharmacies without prescription; and two prescription-only products taken orally (bupropion and varenicline) may also be useful for some smokers who want to become committed quitters.

The effectiveness of NRT in aiding cessation is well established and is supported by the highest level of clinical evidence.  Nevertheless, some people have concerns – unfounded concerns – about the continued use of nicotine to help smokers quit; but the reality is: using NRT to quit is always safer than smoking.

Recently, there have also been mixed messages about another major public health initiative; namely the use of sunscreens as part of the strategy to prevent skin damage and possible skin cancers. Apprehension about chemicals in sunscreens is misplaced. Products approved for use in Australia have had ingredients properly evaluated for safety and efficacy. And labelling regulations now permit the display of a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 50+ to more easily choose the products most suitable for all children and those of us who have inherited the European or Anglo-Celtic skin type.

For more self help strategies to help you quit smoking or prevent your skin from looking like mottled leather, check out the advice at pharmacies providing the Self Care health information. Call 1300 369 772 for the nearest location or visit the Pharmaceutical Society website at and click on “Self Care” then “Use the Self Care Pharmacy Finder”.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

John Bell Column 26 Dec 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –26 Dec 2012



Staying safe through summer


Sadly, for many Australians, New Year is not always so happy. The “holidays” – which for most of us are times for celebration – full of fun and games, can all too quickly turn to disaster.

Sometimes comparatively simple incidents can result in a hospital visit. Fathers and grandfathers, demonstrating their expertise (in reality long gone) on newly acquired sports equipment – trampolines, surf boards and cricket bats – are more likely to demonstrate their incompetence.

Even the well trained, super fit, elite athletes have problems. Both the Australian and Sri Lankan cricket teams this year have been disadvantaged by injuries; so backyard cricketers need to be especially careful.

Of course, traffic accidents continue to be a major cause of death and disability in Australia and particularly at this time of year.

All road deaths are a tragic waste of life. That so many young drivers, passengers and pedestrians have died on Australian roads is a cause of both great sadness and concern in our communities.

With the need or desire to travel sometimes long distances comes the need to act carefully and responsibly on our roads.

The major causes of traffic accidents are all well documented – driving too fast, drink driving, and fatigue. Of these, probably the most difficult to control is driver fatigue. Certainly we can impose speed limits, provide random breath tests and legislate for the wearing of seat belts, but it’s very hard to make laws to keep us awake.

Recent studies have confirmed that many Australians get insufficient sleep (seven and a half to eight hours each night is considered best for most people), and fatigue from sleep deprivation can be as problematic as driving under the influence of intoxication from alcohol or drugs.

There are also other factors which can contribute to feeling drowsy when driving; one which is often forgotten is prescription or non-prescription medicines.

Of course, we all know alcohol can slow our reflexes even when we don’t actually feel tired. Many medicines can do this too; and taking certain medicines and drinking alcohol as well, even a small amount, can become a lethal cocktail.

When starting a new medicine, one prescribed by your doctor or one you buy without a prescription, always check with your pharmacist about the possible side effects; and ask especially if it’s likely to cause drowsiness. If you take a medicine to aid sleep, drowsiness sufficient to affect your driving skills may occur the following day.

And drowsiness is just one side effect that can affect our driving skills. Some medicines can make us dizzy, light-headed or faint. They can cause us to be angry or aggressive; to feel sick, shaky or unsteady and to have blurred or double vision. All these effects can make it unsafe for us to drive, ride or even walk!

If your medicine does affect your driving, ask your pharmacist if there is an alternative. For instance, if you get hay fever there are now antihistamines and other medicines that won’t make you feel drowsy.

There are also times when missing a dose of your prescribed medicine might cause problems. For example, if your medical condition such as epilepsy, anxiety or diabetes is not properly managed, a dangerous situation might result.

You can get more detailed information about the effects of medicines on driving, from pharmacies around Australia providing the Self Care health information. Ring 1300 369 772 or log onto the Pharmaceutical Society website at and click on “Self Care” then “Use the Self Care Pharmacy Finder” for the nearest location. Ask for the Self Care fact card titled Medicines and Driving. Maybe the card on First Aid in the Home could come in handy too.

Article courtesy of the Pharmacy Self Care Program, an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

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