WELLNESS
11/27/2015 09:00 am ET

8 Questions To Ask Your Pharmacist

Here's what your pharmacist wants you to ask.
Musketeer via Getty Images

More than 4 billion prescriptions were filled at retail pharmacies in 2014, according to data from theHenry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Of those prescriptions, roughly half to three-quarters were used incorrectly, says pharmacist Linda Bernstein, a volunteer clinical professor at University of California-San Francisco School of Pharmacy and a spokeswoman for familywize.org. Whether it’s a medication you’ve been taking for 20 years or just a few days, it’s important to ask your pharmacist these seemingly obvious but crucial questions:

1. What is the name of my medication, and what is it for?

When you call for a refill, the last thing you want to say to your pharmacist is: “You know – it's the little green pill.” The color is not enough for your pharmacist to identify the pill, Bernstein says. Medications that have generic forms may come in different colors or sizes, and some brand-name products are a combination of two medicines, Bernstein says. This information is vital if you see multiple doctors, or an emergency occurs and medical staff need to know what your condition is and why you’re taking a particular drug.

2. How and when do I take it, and for how long?

“When it comes to medication, there’s no room for error,” Bernstein says. There might be instructions for medications like inhalers that require additional consultation by your pharmacist. The way the medication is taken can influence the correct dose you’re supposed to take. The same goes for eye drops or antibiotics. “Find out if you can stop taking the medicine if you feel better or if you need to take it for a set amount of time,” she says. For instance, although you may feel better after three to five days, you may still need to take the medicine for 14 days to kill an infection.

3. Should I avoid any other medications, food or drinks?

“When it comes to medication, there’s no room for error,” Bernstein says. There might be instructions for medications like inhalers that require additional consultation by your pharmacist. The way the medication is taken can influence the correct dose you’re supposed to take. The same goes for eye drops or antibiotics. “Find out if you can stop taking the medicine if you feel better or if you need to take it for a set amount of time,” she says. For instance, although you may feel better after three to five days, you may still need to take the medicine for 14 days to kill an infection.

4. What side effects should I expect?

Some medications cause side effects, whether they’re common or dangerous. That’s why it’s important to ask your pharmacist what to expect from a prescription. Even if there is a long paragraph of potential side effects on the pharmacy prescription label, it’s better to ask your pharmacist about the most frequently reported adverse effects of a medication. “Don’t just grin and bear it,” Bernstein says, adding that it’s important to follow up with your health care provider. Never stop taking a medication unless your doctor tells you it’s OK to do so, she says. 

5. What's the best way to store my medication?

Most medications should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from humidity and direct sunlight or drastic temperature changes. “The bathroom is the worst place to store medications because it gets humid when you turn on the shower," Hartzell says. "Putting them on a window sill is another terrible thought." Some medications, like insulin injections, require refrigeration. Never leave your medication in your car, he adds. When flying, keep your medications in your carry-on luggage, not only for ease of access, but to avoid extreme temperature drops in the plane’s luggage hull

6. What if I miss a dose?

Sometimes it’s better to skip than double-up on medication dosages, but it depends on the medication, Hartzell says. “Just because you missed a dose doesn’t mean you should double it up,” he says. “You could wind up in the emergency room.” That’s because taking two doses might give your body too much of the medication, putting you at risk for a potentially life-threatening reaction. Be sure to read the drug information given to you at the pharmacy, and if you’re still unsure, call your pharmacist or doctor.

7. What's the best way to dispose of my medication?

Not all drugs are safe to flush down the toilet. Hartzell recommends putting your medication in a tin or plastic baggy with old coffee grinds or kitty litter and water. This is the best way to dispose of medications in the regular garbage, he says. Some pharmacies offer disposal packs. It’s also important to clean out your medicine cabinet and ditch medications you haven’t used in three months, Bernstein says. Another option is to check with your pharmacy or public health department about a take-back initiative, which allows communities to safely dispose of unused, unwanted or expired drugs at collection sites like police stations. 

8. When should I follow up with my doctor or pharmacist? 

“If something bad is happening, or you’re still not feeling well after a few days on an antibiotic, you should go back to your doctor,” Hartzell says, adding that the medication may not be working for you. “Conversely, if you are on an antibiotic for one or two days and feel worse, you should call your doctor.” It’s not just about side effects, he explains, but how medications affect your daily activities. Since some may not make a difference until you've had three to four months of consistent treatment, ask for a timeline to better understand when to follow up with your health care provider.

 

8 Questions To Ask Your Pharmacist was originally published on U.S. News & World Report.

More from U.S. News:

Also on HuffPost:

PHOTO GALLERY
The History Of Medicine
CONVERSATIONS