Don't scare yourself by checking symptoms online! What to do when you're sick
How many times have you scared yourself by checking your symptoms online? Oftentimes we're convinced we have a severe disease when we start looking up our symptoms on the internet.
Save yourself the stress and the immediate trip to the doctor by following these steps!
When you're sick:
1. Observation and home-treatment
Don't rush to the hospital when you experience the first onset of fever or runny nose. When there is no emergency situation, it' s best to observe at home.
Most common health problems such as common cold and diarrhea are self-limiting diseases caused by virus, meaning it will heal itself over time. You’ll be surprised by how we often pay tons of money to buy drugs that we don't really need to treat runny nose and diarrhea.
The rule of thumb for home observation is 72 hours. But in an emergency situation, this rule won't apply. Emergency situations include:
- Fever that runs more than 38 degrees Celsius on babies younger than 3 months old
- Severe dehydration (not urinating for 6-8 hours for babies)
- Projectile vomit that isn't caused by eating or drinking
- Frequent vomiting and bowel movement in the last 12 hours
- Breathing difficulties
- Poor feeding in babies
Note: For adults, you can have a fever of more than 38 degrees Celsius, headache, runny nose and an appetite loss, but if you can still name correctly the family member of the Kardashians, it's definitely not an emergency.
2. What to do during home observation:
- Take note of your or your child’s body temperature, fever pattern (typhoid fever, dengue fever and common cold fever each has different pattern), vomit frequency, bowel movement (how many times in the last 12 hours; what is the consistency and color, or if there's any blood in your stool). Write them down. These notes will be very helpful when you go to the doctor to help them make better diagnosis.
- Treat symptoms according to guidelines. For example, If you have fever or diarrhea, drink a lot of water or oral rehydration solution to prevent dehydration. Soaking in warm bath or taking warm shower can help ease fever.
If you do feel compelled to check online, there are many websites that give easy-to-understand guidelines on how to treat symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, cough, runny nose or headache. My favorites are www.mayoclinic.com, American Association of Paediatric’s www.aap.com, and kidshealth.com. Just don't convince youself you're terminally ill!
- Observe behaviors such as eating habit, physical activities and appearance for signs of emergency. Are there any symptoms aside from fever such as runny nose, cough or rashes?
When seeing doctors:
1. Bring in all the notes and print out for discussion with your doctor. Remember, the aim of seeing your doctor is not to get drug prescriptions but to get a diagnosis. According to the World Health Organization, drug therapy is just 1 out of 5 ways to treat an illness.
2. Ask the doctor these 3 questions:
- What health problems are you having and what caused it?
- What do you have to do?
- What you should be aware of and when to contact doctor
3. Ask your doctor to give a diagnosis in medical terms. Instead of just saying you're having a sore throat, your doctor should say whether it is pharyngitis, laryngitis or tonsilitis. It should be gastroenteritis instead of stomach flu.
4. When you have the diagnosis, then you can browse the internet to find out details of the illness including causes and treatment. Now is a good time to put your intelligent phone to good use for browsing the symptoms of your health problems.
5. Ask your doctor to write clearly the prescription and ask him/her to explain:
- How to take the drugs
- Active substance contained in the medicine: how does it work?
- Are there any side effects?
- Ask if the drugs have a cheaper, generic version
- If you're taking other medications, let your doctor know and ask him how the prescription that s/he prescribed will interact with the ones you are taking
6. Also ask if there are other types of therapies other than drugs. Exercise? Rest? Yoga?
7. As a patient, you're also entitled to have a second opinion. Feel free to see another doctor if you feel.
When buying drugs:
1. Ask your doctor to write the prescription clearly. Count the lines of drugs in the prescription. If there are more than 3 lines, it is polypharmacy.
2. If there's no life-threatening situation, again, take time to browse the drugs on the prescription before you buy them. My favorite website for checking drugs is www.drugs.com. I simply key in the active substance contained in the drug and see if it matches the doctor’s diagnosis.
A pediatrician once prescribed my son phenobarbitol, which is used to treat epileptic patients, for his swollen lips after falling from a slide. It wasn’t immediately noticeable because phenobarbitol was crushed with other drugs in compound drugs or known as Puyer. I happened to notice it because the prescription was printed out, instead of in the usual doctor's hand written note. It was dangerous because, firstly, my son is not epileptic and, secondly, swollen lips are treated by keeping it clean and applying it with cold compress.
When you're healthy:
1. Be informed about common health problems. It's not rocket science. Basically you only need to learn about these health problems: fever, vommiting, diarrhea, cough and common cold, as well as the use of antibiotics. It's the age of information glut.
2, If you must, choose reliable health websites to learn about health problems. Again, my favorite is www.mayoclinic.com because it is concise and doesn't overwhelm readers with medical jargons. WHO also has a good website. Locally, Yayasan Orang Tua Peduli or Caring Parents Foundation has a good website in Indonesian to learn about common health problems.
3. Most importantly, take time to learn about how to handle emergency situations. Knowing about emergency situations will help you not to panic easily. – Rappler.com
This article was first published on Magdalene.
Dyah is a mother of one son who lives in Tangerang. She is actively campaigning for the rational use of medicines. Source: Training material from Pesat Seminar, held by Yayasan Orang Tua Peduli