What are the different pharmaceutical forms?

There are many different pharmaceutical forms. Different pharmaceutical forms can be used to affect how rapid a medicine takes effect and where it takes effect.

Most medicines are taken orally because this is easy to do and the medicine’s effect is achieved relatively quickly. Tablets and capsules are the most common medicinal forms taken orally. Medicine cannot always be taken orally. For example, children and people that suffer from swallowing difficulties may find it difficult to swallow a tablet, and so medicines are also available as liquids, soluble tablets, or powders. If a patient is vomiting, suppositories can be used, for example, or the medicine can be injected into a muscle (intramuscular) or underneath the skin (subcutaneous). 

Sometimes only a local effect is required. Asthma medicine affects the lungs, and skin creams mainly affect only the area where they are applied. There are different things to take into account in each pharmaceutical form, which is why you should always read the package leaflet of your own medicine carefully. 

Oral pharmaceutical forms

Medication is most commonly taken orally, as tablets, capsules and oral fluids. Taking medicines orally is very easy to do and the medicine’s effect is achieved relatively quickly. The medicine is swallowed, then it goes first into the stomach and then into the small intestine. In the stomach and small intestine, the medicine first breaks up and then dissolves. After this, it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and then travel to the target location. 

Into the eyes

Eye drops and creams can be used to treat children, especially in cases of eye infections and allergy symptoms in the eyes. The drops and creams are placed into the eye underneath the lower eyelid. From there, they get spread around by the movements of the eye and have a local effect. Sometimes eye cream is also applied to an infected eyelid. Eye drops can be stored in either a bottle or in single-dose pipettes. 

Into the nose

Nasal drops and sprays are used to treat a blocked nose or allergic rhinitis. They have a local effect on the nose’s mucous membrane. Before applying the medicine, it is best to gently blow your nose so that the medicine can get to the mucous membrane. 

Into the ears

Ear drops are especially used for treating different types of ear infections. The drops have a local effect on the ear canal. 

Externally-applied pharmaceutical forms

A variety of different creams and gels are used for skin care, skin moisturising, and treating rashes, and for those aged over 12 they are also used for local pain relief. The fat content of different creams varies: normal creams contain more fat than emulsion creams. Usually, gels are clear in colour and they feel a bit like jelly. 

Pharmaceutical forms given through the rectum

A medicine given through the rectum gets absorbed into the bloodstream less well than an orally-taken medicine. This means that suppositories and enemas are not the primary medicinal forms. The advantage of using them is that they make it possible to give medicine to a vomiting, convulsive or unconscious patient. Sometimes, rectal medicines are used in situations where, for example, the child refuses to take an oral fluid because of the flavour or because of difficulty swallowing. Some rectal medications have a local effect on the rectum. 

Inhaled medicines

Inhaled medicines are most commonly taken as powders and sprays. These medicinal forms are particularly common for treating asthma. A device called an inhaler is used to take the medicine. Knowing how to use an inhaler is important for successfully treating asthma. You should check the package leaflet of your medicine for information on how to use it correctly. 

Medicines injected into the veins, muscles or the skin

Injections can be given directly into a vein, into a muscle or underneath the skin. Of these, injection under the skin is the medicinal form most commonly used treatment at home. Medicine has the fastest effect when it is taken intravenously. 

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