Self medication is becoming an increasingly important area within healthcare. It moves patients towards greater independence in making decisions about management of minor illnesses, thereby promoting empowerment. Self medication also has advantages for healthcare systems as it facilitates better use of clinical skills, increases access to medication and may contribute to reducing prescribed drug costs associated with publicly funded health programmes. However, self medication is associated with risks such as misdiagnosis, use of excessive drug dosage, prolonged duration of use, drug interactions and polypharmacy. The latter may be particularly problematic in the elderly. Monitoring systems, a partnership between patients, physicians and pharmacists and the provision of education and information to all concerned on safe self medication, are proposed strategies for maximising benefit and minimising risk.