10 times you can head to a pharmacy before a doctor's office

A pharmacist handing medication to a patient in the pharmacy

For minor aches and ailments, there’s a health expert you might be overlooking: your local pharmacist.

Though pharmacists may not be able to diagnose illnesses or prescribe medication, they can provide valuable guidance — often sooner than a doctor is available. Just visit or call your pharmacy and ask to speak with a pharmacist.

Your community pharmacist can help you…

1 When you don’t know who to call

Pharmacists can help you find over-the-counter medications that offer the best value for common ailments you’re hoping to treat, like allergy symptoms or a cold. They can also help you navigate the health care system if your symptoms might need a visit to urgent care or your primary care provider, or if they’re concerning enough to visit the emergency department.

Trying to decide what level of care you need can be difficult when you’re not feeling well, so pharmacists can help talk your though that process.

2 When you want to save money on a prescription

Navigating your prescription insurance can be difficult, but a pharmacist can work with your doctor to switch a prescription medication to a product that’s equally effective but less expensive. Often, insurance may require a different medication in the same class or that you try something else first. The pharmacist can help you find out what that might be. They can also double-check whether a prescription will be cheaper without insurance, so ask for help when you need it.

3 When you need a vaccine

Pharmacists can provide flu and COVID-19 vaccines, along with other recommended vaccines, depending on their state rules. They can also help you determine if a vaccine would provide additional protection for you. Some pharmacies have walk-in vaccine appointments available, but others may require an appointment, depending on the time of year.

4 When you need to manage cold and flu symptoms

If you’re trying to manage a runny nose, sinus congestion, coughing or other minor symptoms, your pharmacist can determine the best over-the-counter treatment with the fewest side effects for you. Just be sure to tell the pharmacist about any medical conditions and medications you might be on to make sure their recommendations will be safe and effective for you.

5 When you want to know if a supplement is right for you

Pharmacists are also trained on supplements that can help support your healthy lifestyle. They can help you determine if a supplement will help with your muscle pain, struggle falling asleep or tiredness, for example. Many people may take a multivitamin or a probiotic to support their wellness, and pharmacists can help you navigate the many options out there to support both your goals and your budget.

6 When you need advice on managing diabetes

Navigating the world of diabetes supplies and diabetes management can be overwhelming, especially for someone who’s been recently diagnosed. There are many blood sugar testing tools out there, and a pharmacist can help you decide if a wearable device or a meter might work best based on your needs.

In addition to helping you find supplies that work best for your lifestyle, pharmacists can help you learn how to administer injectable medications like insulin and understand the side effects to your medications and how to manage high or low blood sugars.

7 When you need advice on managing your heart health

We don’t often notice our blood pressure or cholesterol levels without testing. Pharmacists are able to offer point-of-care testing to help you know your heart health numbers.

Many pharmacists offer wellness screenings and can help you determine what risk factors you can change to help improve your heart health and get you connected to a health care provider if your numbers need to be evaluated further. If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure or cholesterol, they can help you determine if your medications are working well or navigate medication interactions when you need an antibiotic or over-the-counter medications.

8 When you need a creative way to take medicine

Some people struggle to swallow pills, but a pharmacist usually can find a different form of the medication, or offer a way to mix it into an easy-to-swallow juice or crush into applesauce or pudding.

Many pharmacies also offer ways to flavor liquid medicines that are difficult for children, especially, to stomach.

9 When you need basic information about medication

If you think you might be having a side effect to a medication, it’s worth calling the pharmacist to see what to do. Some side effects can be managed with some small changes, while others are significant enough to change the medication. If a change is needed, the pharmacist can help you find a medication that might work for you but not result in that side effect.

10 When you need to know if a medicine is safe for you

Your pharmacist can tell you if you can take a certain medication while pregnant or breastfeeding, for example, or while taking other over-the-counter medications.

If you visit the same pharmacy where you receive prescription medicine, that pharmacist can also use your medication history to figure out if any prescription or over-the-counter medications will have adverse interactions or side effects.

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