Musts for the Medicine Cabinet

Lauren S. Schlesselman, PharmD
Published Online: Sunday, December 1, 2002

Prevention of all common medical problems is probably not possible. As the old adage says, ?accidents do happen.? Even for those people who are not accident prone, colds, headaches, and indigestion may be just around the corner. Often these problems are unavoidable. So, if prevention is not possible, then preparation is the next best option. Although the need for certain items will vary, depending on the ages of the family members, some basic supplies are necessary in every home.

Medications and supplies are not the only items needed in a medicine cabinet. Keeping the phone numbers for Poison Control, each family member?s doctor, and the local hospital in this convenient location will prevent you from having to search for them during an emergency. Maintaining a current list of prescription medications and medical problems for each person is also advised. When discussing an emergency with the doctor or a hospital staff member, you are likely to need to provide this information. Having it available can prevent delays in treatment, potential drug interactions, or serious complications.

Old prescription medications should not be stored in the medicine cabinet. Any medication that is no longer taken should be discarded. These medications were prescribed for a specific illness for a specific person. They may not be appropriate for the next illness or for another person. Routinely check all products in the medicine cabinet. Any product that has passed its expiration date must be discarded because it may no longer prove effective. While examining the contents of the cabinet, discard any medications with damaged packaging or signs of tampering. Also examine medications for signs of impurity due to moisture. Medicines are best stored in a dry environment, rather than in the bathroom. Do not forget to replace any discarded items, however.

For households with children, special considerations are necessary. When selecting products for the medicine cabinet, it is important to select medications that are appropriate for each child?s age. That may include stocking regular, children?s, and infant?s acetamino-phen products, for instance. Knowing the appropriate dose for each child?s age and weight is also crucial to prevent over- or underdosing. Another lifesaving consideration is the location of the medicine cabinet. All bottles need to be closed properly and kept out of the reach of young children.
Regardless of age, various family members may have specific dosing requirements or medication restrictions because of their medical conditions. For example, acet-aminophen should be used with caution in patients with impaired liver function or chronic alcohol use. Ibuprofen must be used cautiously in patients who are at risk for gastrointestinal bleeding or who are taking blood-thinning medicine. Before giving any over-the-counter (OTC) products to individuals with chronic medical conditions, consult a doctor or pharmacist. The Table includes the uses of and other important information about various OTC products.



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