By keeping your medicine cabinet up-to-date, you'll be ready for any health issue or accident that comes your way. Here are some recommendations for stocking the essentials.
by Kukla Vera
Take a good look at the contents of your medicine cabinet. All too often, those narrow shelves house a jumble of bottles and tubes, ointments and gels and old prescription bottles with barely legible labels.
An inventory of what's in your cabinet gives you an opportunity to throw out the old and replenish with the new so you're stocked with items that will provide relief for emergencies, such as cuts or burns, or everyday events. The well-stocked cabinet is one that is well prepared for all needs.
So, what items should be in your medicine cabinet? Kathleen H. Besinque, Pharm.D., associate professor at the USC School of Pharmacy, suggests something for pain relief, such as a headache or muscle aches. Besinque encourages people to choose what best meets their needs among a field of over-the-counter drugs that include aspirin, ibuprofen (such as Advil®), acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and naproxen (Aleve®). She also recommends having an antacid (Tums® or Maalox®) on hand in case of mild heartburn or upset stomach.
Coughs and colds
"For the coughs and colds that invariably strike most people sometime each year, a decongestant tablet offer symptomatic relief of nasal congestion, making it easier to breathe," says Besinque. She also recommends a saline solution nasal spray to open up clogged nasal passages. Saline is a safe, non-drug product that does provide some relief.
Additional items include an expectorant to temporarily relieve coughs and ease breathing difficulty by loosening mucus. Besinque cautions, "If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, check with your pharmacist before taking cough and cold remedies."
Allergies and diarrhea
If you have allergies, she advises that an antihistamine (such as Claritin® or Benadryl®) should be in your cabinet to relieve sneezing, runny nose and itchy throat and eyes. She cautions that antihistamines may cause sedation or worsen certain medical conditions, especially in the elderly. Again, always check first with your pharmacist or physician.
For people with severe allergic reactions that require emergency treatment of epinephrine, an EpiPen®, which requires a physician's prescription, is an absolute necessity.
She recommends remedies such as Kaopectate® or Immodium® be kept on hand to temper symptoms of diarrhea.
Besinque cautions that all over-the-counter medications are to relieve mild to moderate symptoms and should be used for a short period of time, which is usually indicated on the bottle or box. Your health care provider should always treat severe or prolonged symptoms. Also she says that expired medications should be properly discarded in a closed container, not flushed down the sink or toilet.
Cuts, scrapes and burns
For cuts and scrapes, keep an antibiotic cream (such as Neosporin®), a hydrocortisone cream (such as Cortaid®) and first-aid strength hydrogen peroxide. Add a supply of multi-sized bandages, gauze and tape to handle small wounds
Not to be overlooked is something for burns. While there are plenty of over-the-counter options, Besinque suggests a topical cream containing silver sulfadiazine (Silvadene®). "While it requires a prescription, it provides excellent coverage in the event of a burn and also kills bacteria that can cause infection," she says.
Other products rounding out a well-stocked cabinet for just about any household include rubbing alcohol, cotton swabs, sunscreen, and lip balm as well as dental hygiene basics.
Circumstances demand specialty items for specific households. Sexually active people should always have a supply of condoms. Treat them the same as any medication and check the expiration date before use.
Parents of newborn and young children should make sure that everything in the medicine cabinet is in childproof containers. Also, non-aspirin, over-the-counter pain and fever relievers specifically made for infants or children should be available. These products are provided in child-friendly forms (drops, solutions or chew tabs) and have appropriate dosing information listed on the label. Parents should use the pediatric measuring device that comes with the product rather than using a teaspoon.
Brown bag review
Besinque recommends that people who are taking multiple medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, should take them to their pharmacist for a "brown bag review". While computers aid in keeping track of prescription medications that a person is taking, this visual review of all medications gives the pharmacist an opportunity to look for potential interactions, out-of-date products, unnecessary medications or incorrect dosages. Another good habit is to maintain an up-to-date list of all medications (regular and occasional use and prescription and over-the-counter) to share with all health care providers to reduce medication-related problems. This is especially important for elderly people who may not realize that their medication has expired or is no longer needed.
"Pharmacists are among the most available health professionals in the community. They are experts in medications and their proper use," Besinque says. "Make an appointment with your pharmacist so both of you will have adequate time to review your medications and be sure you're taking them properly."
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