Life Wellbeing Use of cold and flu drugs, antihistamines increases by three million
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Use of cold and flu drugs, antihistamines increases by three million

Australians are taking more antihistamines and allergy meds than they were a decade ago, and not just to stop the sneeze. Photo: Getty
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Australians are throwing back three million more cold and flu tablets and antihistamines than they were a decade ago, research has revealed.

Women over the age of 35 remain the largest cohort of general medication users, the Roy Morgan report states.

While the rate of general medication use among all Australians has only risen slightly from 2009 to 2019, the use of allergy, antihistamine and cold and flu drugs has skyrocketed.

Why the marked increase? Dr Richard Kidd said the antihistamine spike could be explained by the drug’s multitude of uses.

Dr Kidd, who is chairman of the Australian Medical Association’s council of general practice, said antihistamines were taken by individuals for reasons beyond obvious allergies.

“A lot of people also take them to help them sleep and some use them for help with motion sickness,” Dr Kidd told The New Daily.

They’re available over the counter from chemists, so they’re easy for people to access.

While some people will be taking the pills for other reasons as suggested by their doctor, it’s when the self-medicating is unchecked that it can become a problem.

Dr Kidd said antihistamines were not “completely safe” for long-term use, because they can trigger neurological side effects that may or may not disappear when the individual stops taking the drug.

For the past 10 years, doctors and GPs in Australia have been steadfastly educating their patients and the general public about antibiotics, and which illnesses they’re actually effective for.

It’s this message that Dr Kidd believes is behind the increase in cold and flu medication consumption.

As the antibiotics message reaches more Australians, more people are realising the prescription medication isn’t effective for fighting the common cold, he said.

Instead, they’re reaching for supermarket or over-the-counter medicines, resulting in an increase for that sector.

While Dr Kidd is pleased the message is taking effect, he said it’s extremely important for Australians to continue to see their doctors.

“The takeaway message from all this is continuously improving health literacy,” he told The New Daily.

“The best way to do that, especially for people with chronic conditions, it’s very important that people continue to have an active relationship or partnership with their doctor.

“For people with chronic condition, the people have been quite OK at managing chronic conditions through over-the-counter medication can miss out on much better management options that become available (such as medication that comes onto the PBS).”

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