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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 26 Sep 2012

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


Mental illness – it’s more common than you think

One in five people will experience mental illness this year. It’s an astounding statistic but one that for too long has not made headlines.

Unfortunately, mental illness is a subject that is too often hidden or stigmatised due to shame or embarrassment. As a result, many thousands of people are left feeling isolated and alone.

This is an issue that the Mental Health Council of Australia will address as a part of its campaign during National Mental Health Month and on World Mental Health Day - October 10.

According to Frank Quinlan, CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia: “By being part of the nationwide conversation about mental illness, we want to build awareness and understanding of the issue and show people that it’s OK to seek help for yourself or for people you care about.”

A recent study showed that psychiatric illness is now the biggest source of ill health in Europe. Almost 40 per cent of the region’s population – around 165 million people - experience a mental disorder each year. Anxiety is the most common condition, followed by insomnia and depression. This could, at least in part, be related to the extremely poor state of the economy and high unemployment rates in many European countries.

But, in Australia, whilst our economy is in reasonably good shape – at least by comparison – we cannot afford to be complacent with respect to mental health. As in Europe, so in Australia, anxiety is the most common condition, with women more likely to be affected than men. So-called substance use disorders – involving the harmful use of, or dependency on, alcohol or other drugs – are more common in men.

Of course, it’s normal to feel anxious now and again. We’ve all had that experience of butterflies in our stomach maybe before an exam or a job interview. Anxiety is actually a normal and reasonable response to danger or stress; it’s an emotion that triggers our body’s nervous system to be able to make quick, and hopefully, correct decisions.

Some studies suggest that we inherit the tendency to feel more stress. Other studies describe stress as a response that is learned over a lifetime. In any event, people who experience high levels of stress, tend to hold beliefs which make them feel threatened, ultra vigilant and out of control.

There is no doubt too much stress can be a health hazard; so the first important step in stress management involves being aware of when our stress levels become unhealthy. Once stress overload is recognised there is a range of stress management skills available to address the problem.

We probably don’t need to be reminded about stress, but perhaps we do need to be reminded about how best to manage it. If you feel tense or “stressed out” almost all the time, and anxiety is affecting your everyday activities, then it’s time to have a chat with your GP. You might also benefit from the top ten Stress-Less Tips. Check out the website

Your pharmacist can help too. There is a series of mental health information cards available from pharmacies around Australia as part of the Pharmaceutical Society’s (PSA) Self Care Program.

No doubt throughout life there’ll be plenty of stressful situations for us to cope with. Just how we cope will determine how healthy we stay. So, for a little extra help on how to stress less, ask your Self Care Pharmacist for the fact card titled Anxiety.

There are also useful cards on subjects such as Depression, Relaxation Techniques, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Sleeping Problems. For the location of the nearest pharmacy providing the Self Care information, log onto the PSA website and click on Self Care Pharmacy Finder or phone 1300 369 772.


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

John Bell Column 19 Sep 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –19 Sep 2012


Be happy without headaches

The recent National Headache and Migraine Awareness Week was a reminder (if we really needed one) that headache is one of the most common symptoms experienced by humans. It's quite unusual not to have at least the occasional headache. In fact, studies have shown that more than 30% of Australians have a headache at least once a month, and about 5% of our population gets a headache on a daily basis.

Naturally, we're all a lot happier not having a headache. However, according to Professor James Lance, author of Migraine and Other Headaches, if you're happy to start with, headaches are less likely to be a problem. Not surprisingly, that's not the complete answer to avoiding headaches; and we don't really know why some people get headaches more often than others and why some people never get headaches. Professor Lance suggests that it’s probably linked with inheritance of certain chemical transmitters that pass messages in the brain from one nerve cell to another.

Of course, headache is simply a symptom of an underlying cause (fortunately headaches are usually harmless, but understandably they can create apprehension about their origin); and the cause needs to be identified in order to select the most appropriate treatment.

We do know that there are certain factors – trigger factors – which can provoke headache.  These triggers aren’t the same for everyone and at different times they may even be different for the same person.  However, commonly they include stress, tension and anxiety.  Headaches could also be related to hormone level changes; perhaps at the time of periods, during pregnancy or while taking oral contraceptive or hormone replacement therapy. And something as simple as delaying or missing meals, coffee withdrawal or too much alcohol can trigger headaches.

Irregular sleep problems, as in too much or too little sleep, or ‘jet lag’ associated with international travel or shift work, can also trigger headaches; as can weather or altitude changes, strong smells or fumes and stuffy smoke-filled rooms.  Certain medicines can trigger headaches as well.

Just about everything you want to know about headache is available by way of the Self Care fact cards – available at pharmacies throughout Australia providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information.  There are cards titled Pain Relievers, Headache and Migraine.

Migraine is one of the four most common types of headache.  The others are tension headache, sinus headache and cluster headaches.

Migraine is sometimes incorrectly self diagnosed.  Migraine is not just a very bad headache.  It’s a specific condition usually presenting as a severe throbbing headache, often accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.  It is usually felt on one side of the head.  Some people have warning signs (so-called aura symptoms), up to an hour before the headache starts.  These might be flashing lights or a feeling of tingling or numbness.

Avoiding headaches, especially migraine headaches, is a better option than having to treat them when they occur.  This usually involves some minor changes to lifestyle – learning to relax, keeping fit, having a regular sleep pattern and regular exercise, and being moderate with eating and drinking habits.  (The Relaxation Techniques fact card may be a good one to have a look at, too).

When medication is required to treat headache, the choices are generally between aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen. Pain relieving products with codeine are not considered suitable to relieve migraine, but the combination of paracetamol with metoclopramide (an anti-nauseant medicine) is a useful non-prescription product now available to treat migraine or “sick headache”.

So when you next have a headache, check with your pharmacist first for the most appropriate treatment; and for the location of your nearest pharmacy with the Self Care cards, check out the website Click on Self Care then Find a Self Care Pharmacy. Meanwhile, keep happy; it might just help.



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

John Bell Column 12 Sep 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –12 Sep 2012



GORD! That really burns.

In 2005, Australians Barry Marshall and Robin Wren were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. It was recognition that some 20 years earlier they had demonstrated that it was chiefly the Helicobacter pylori bacteria which were the underlying cause of peptic (stomach) ulcer; and they thus revolutionised the treatment of this condition.

A disease which so frequently required hospitalisation and surgery could now be treated effectively by medicines – a better patient outcome at a lower cost.

Heartburn is one of the symptoms of peptic ulcer; but more usually it is a symptom of reflux. In fact it is a defining symptom of reflux - that somewhat less serious but certainly more common condition which, when it occurs frequently and becomes really troublesome, is known as “gastro-oesophageal reflux disease” or simply GORD.

Reflux occurs when what goes down the oesophagus – that is the “food pipe” to the stomach – comes back up again to where it’s not meant to be. And it comes back up again mixed with stomach acid and other chemicals. So it’s not surprising that the regurgitation or backwash of swallowed food causes a burning feeling. It’s generally described by reflux sufferers as beginning in the stomach or lower chest and moving upwards behind the breastbone towards the neck or throat.

Most of us will have experienced reflux now and again. And when it’s only just a little, and just now and again, it doesn’t cause too much discomfort. We have a circular band of muscle which acts like a valve at the top of the stomach; it’s called the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS). Normally it works pretty well but when the LOS is weak or faulty, problems of backwash can occur.

Prolonged exposure to gastric acid causes inflammation of the oesophagus, possible ulceration and haemorrhage. Scar tissue can develop and there is a small increased risk of oesophageal cancer. So prevention and management of reflux is important.

Occasional heartburn usually responds well to antacids. As the name implies, antacids neutralise the acid in the stomach. They provide quick, but not long lasting, relief from most mild reflux symptoms. Ingredients include aluminium hydroxide, magnesium salts, calcium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate – often in combination. Other ingredients such as alginates and simethicone are sometimes added. The alginate forms a “raft” over the stomach contents to prevent leakage into the oesophagus; and the simethicone helps to reduce wind. Despite their wide availability, antacids are not suitable for everyone (so, if you are taking other medicines, check with your pharmacist first as to whether antacids are appropriate) and they are not the best choice medication for people with frequent heartburn symptoms.

More effective as treatments for frequently occurring or more severe symptoms of reflux are the so-called “histamine-2 blockers” (for example: Gavilast and Zantac) and the “proton pump inhibitors” (PPIs) (such as Somac) which are now available in some strengths without prescription. They work by reducing the production of acid in the stomach. They don’t act as quickly as the antacids but they provide longer lasting and more complete relief.  Currently the PPIs cannot be advertised directly to the public or self selected at the pharmacy, so you’ll need to ask your pharmacist as to whether they are suitable for you.

In any event, it’s worth remembering, a faulty LOS doesn’t happen by accident; and often there’s an identifiable trigger factor. It could be obesity, tobacco smoking, spicy foods, excess alcohol, carbonated or caffeinated drinks; and certain medicines can also loosen the muscle around that sphincter.

You can get an excellent “Fact Card” on Heartburn and Indigestion from pharmacies which provide the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information. Phone 1300 369 772 for the nearest location or log onto the website  Click on “Self Care” then “Find a Self Care Pharmacy”.




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

John Bell Column 05 Sep 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –05 Sep 2012


Do you have a touch of hearing loss?

Research published recently in the Public Library of Science Journal, PLoS Biology, has described how our sense of touch is inherited. Indeed all our senses, along with the other more visible structures of our body, are inherited. But Professor Gary Lewin and his colleagues at the Max Delbruck Centre for Molecular Medicine in Berlin have taken the issue just a touch further. They have shown that the degree of sensitivity of our touch is genetically determined and, furthermore, that there is a link between touch and hearing.

The research showed that those people with good hearing were more likely to have a sensitive touch. And, on the other hand, there was an impaired sense of touch in students who had congenital deafness. It seems the genes which dull the sense of touch may also dull the sense of hearing.

Of course, whether we start life with good hearing or poor hearing, we need to take care of what we have; and this is one of the messages which has come from the National Hearing Week, an event held each year in the last week of August. It provides an opportunity to raise community awareness of hearing impairment and ways to protect to our hearing.

Some causes of hearing loss are very much self-inflicted.

A study undertaken a couple of years ago by the National Acoustic Laboratories found that up to a quarter of users of various portable music devices will suffer hearing problems. And it’s not the quality of the music but the quantity that’s causing the damage.

Industrial deafness has long been recognised as an occupational health hazard; but researchers have now shown that whether it’s a power tool or loud music, the adverse affects on the ear are just the same.

Consistent exposure to loud music is the most common cause of hearing loss; an easily preventable cause, but as the deafness may not become apparent for some years, treatment is often initiated far too late.

‘Noise destroys – turn down the volume’ is also the message to come from the Australian Tinnitus Association. Tinnitus literally means ringing or tinkling in the ears, but the constantly annoying sound that many sufferers live with 24 hours a day takes many forms. It might also be a hissing or whistling sound. It might be like living with the summer sound of cicadas all year round.

Many of us, perhaps 20% of the population, experience tinnitus from time to time; but for maybe 2% it can be severe and quite disturbing.

Apart from noise there are some other aggravating or risk factors. Some medicines – notably quinine and possibly anti-inflammatory medicines – may cause tinnitus. Caffeine (in tea, coffee, cola or chocolate) and alcohol may worsen tinnitus in some people. And smoking, which narrows the blood vessels which supply vital oxygen to the ears, can make tinnitus worse.

Tinnitus can often be managed or controlled reasonably well; even so, a cure doesn’t really seem close at hand. However, treatment for some other common ear problems is often much easier, provided the cause can be identified early on. The recently up-dated Ear Problems Fact Card will help with some hints on how to reduce the risk of ear problems and treat those problems effectively when they do occur. The Card is available from pharmacies throughout Australia providing the Pharmaceutical Society’s Self Care health information.

Ask at your local Self Care Pharmacy for more advice and when there, pick up a copy of the Ear Problems Fact Card. You can call the Pharmaceutical Society on 1300 369 772 or log on to the Pharmaceutical Society’s website for the nearest location. And for more information about making the most of limited hearing abilities check out the website





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

John Bell Column 29 Aug 2012

Pharmacy Self Care Health Facts Column
By John Bell –29 Aug 2012


Be prepared for asthma

The first week in September each year is traditionally designated as National Asthma Awareness Week - to draw our attention to a condition which directly affects more than two million Australians. This year one of the key messages to come from National Asthma Awareness Week is “be prepared”.

Australia has more people with asthma than just about anywhere else in the world.  One in six children and one is 10 adults live each day with this life-threatening disease.  Everyone knows someone – a friend or family member – with asthma.

Asthma is a potentially very serious condition likely to cause at least discomfort, quite possibly severe disability and perhaps even death. So, learning “asthma first aid” is a simple skill that could save someone’s life

In Australia, the number of deaths from asthma each year declined from about 1000 some 20 years ago to less than 300 in 2005, but in the past few years it has been increasing again to more than 400.

During the winter, colds and flu are major causes of cough and congestion, but these are not the only conditions which affect our ability to breathe freely.

A variety of factors can trigger the inflammation which causes the symptoms of asthma – wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing, particularly at night or in the early morning.  These trigger factors include allergies, viral infections and inhaled pollutants such as tobacco smoke, dust and dust mites.  Cold air exposure and exercise can trigger asthma, as can reflux disease and certain medicines in people with super-sensitive airways.  Even laughing (said to be the best medicine!!), especially in children, has been shown to trigger asthma.

Identification and avoidance of trigger factors go a long way towards asthma control.  But most people with asthma will need preventer and reliever medicines as well.

What medicine is best and how often it should be used depends on whether the asthma is classified as intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent or severe persistent.

We don’t yet have all the answers as to the exact underlying cause of asthma – that is, why some people have airways more naturally sensitive – nor do we have the perfect single treatment.

Most people who live with asthma think they are in control of their condition, but the reality is very different.

Managed appropriately, asthma should not be a major concern; but for most people with asthma, proper management is considered too onerous – or just not considered at all.

As well, many people with asthma are unaware of asthma first aid. These procedures are essential to know, not only for everyone with asthma, but also if you have someone with asthma in your family or you’re caring for someone with asthma. And it’s especially important for teachers to know about asthma first aid. The State Asthma Foundations have available Asthma Emergency Kits which include basic equipment and instructions for use to assist someone having an asthma attack; and the Foundations can provide education and training on the use of the kits. Check out the website for more details.

Also, the Pharmaceutical Society in Australia (PSA) has recently revised the Asthma and Asthma Medicines fact cards.  These cards provide the latest information on how asthma can be well controlled so that people with asthma can live a normal and active life, free of symptoms.

These cards are available from all pharmacies in Australia that provide the PSA Self Care health information.  Phone 1300 369 772 for the nearest location; or alternatively log onto and click on “Self Care” then “Find a Self Care Pharmacy”.

By being prepared with good asthma management strategies we should all breathe a little more easily.




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

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