Codeine and its uses
Codeine is an opioid medication used to treat moderate to severe pain and is a prescription-only medication. It is normally issued by doctors if milder painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen have proved ineffective and needs to be used carefully.
Codeine can lead to addiction and can potentially be fatal in some circumstances so it must only ever be used in line with medical advice and under medical supervision. Codeine can impact your breathing, so it must never be used by anyone who has serious breathing difficulties, asthma, or problems with stomach blockages.
It is not suitable for anyone under the age of 12, and should not be given to anyone under the age of 18 who has had adenoids or tonsils removed recently. It should also not be used during pregnancy as it can cause life-threatening health problems for the baby.
Can I drink alcohol with codeine?
It is really important not to drink alcohol, or take other drugs which cause sleepiness, while using codeine, because this combination could slow your breathing down with potentially fatal side effects.
Codeine should not be used if you are pregnant or breast-feeding as it can be passed onto the baby causing a potential fatality. If you fall pregnant while taking codeine inform your doctor immediately as your baby could become dependent on it.
What health conditions affect codeine?
While codeine can be safe to use if taken properly, there are certain health conditions and other medications which you must tell your doctor about as they might mean codeine is inappropriate for you. Examples include if you have ever had: any breathing disorders, liver or kidney disease, head injuries, low blood pressure, blockage in your stomach, disorders of the pancreas or gallbladder, thyroid issues, mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction or if you are taking sedatives.
There are a group of medicines which can create a serious condition if you take them with codeine so make sure your doctor knows if you are using any kind of medication for depression, migraine, serious infections, Parkinson’s, or mental illness, as well as for preventing vomiting. All of these can potentially interact with codeine to cause Serotonin Syndrome.
This syndrome causes symptoms including shivering, sweating, fast heart rate, twitching, hallucinations and nausea. Seek medical help immediately if you experience these kinds of symptoms after using codeine.
It’s really important to follow the instructions from your doctor when taking codeine and never exceed the given dose, or take it for longer than suggested. This is because codeine can become addictive.
If you are worried that you might have developed an addiction to codeine you should discuss this with your GP immediately to try to find the best solution, or seek advice from your local drugs clinic if you would rather.
If you have been taking it for some time, speak to your doctor before you reduce the dose or stop taking it because you may suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor can help advise you on the best way to handle this process.
What are the side effects from codeine?
There are potential side effects from codeine so always read the patient information leaflet to make sure you understand what they are and what to do if you experience any of the symptoms. If you take codeine and experience any of the following: swelling of your face, tongue, throat, hives, problems breathing, it may be that you are allergic to it and you must seek immediate medical help.
Other effects from codeine, which require immediate medical help or advice include, shallow breathing, slow heartbeat, feeling light-headed, confusion, seizures, problems urination, missed periods, impotence or loss of libido, nausea and vomiting.
While codeine does have potential to cause some serious side effects, it is commonly prescribed as a pain relief solution for adults with moderate to severe pain, and as long as you give your doctor full details of all health conditions and medications you are taking already, they should be able to assess if it is suitable for you or not.
If you are deemed able to take codeine then you need to read all of the information first, so that you know how to spot allergy symptoms or the more serious side effect symptoms and know when you might need to seek medical help.
As long as you are careful with codeine and only use it according to the exact instructions from your doctor or pharmacist then it should be safe for you to take it but always seek medical advice if you have any concerns or questions.