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Some of us cram our home medicine cabinets with items; others don’t stock enough emergency supplies to be helpful when needed. I’m a pharmacist, so patients ask me for advice about what should be included in their cabinets. Often, they are surprised by my first response, which is to avoid storing medicines in a bathroom medicine cabinet.
Yes, it’s a medicine cabinet and it’s in the bathroom. However, moisture from baths and showers will degrade your medicines or render them ineffective.
Find a place where they can be kept dry, out of direct sun and not exposed to big variations in temperature. For example, I keep my supplies in the kitchen in a small drawer. That works because the drawer isn’t near the heat and humidity of the stove, sink and dishwasher. Another option is a hall closet. As long as you have a spot that meets the criteria for being a safe place, you can put your “medicine cabinet” anywhere.
After selecting a good location for your medicine cabinet, what should it contain?
Here’s a starter list:
- Digital thermometer
- Activated charcoal in case of poisoning; keep the phone number for the Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222, with the charcoal.
- Bandages and adhesive strips
- Pain and fever relievers (remember: no aspirin, even baby aspirin, for children younger than 12)
- Antibiotic ointment and/or calamine lotion
- Heat and ice packs
Depending on your needs, you may want to add:
- Pill cutter
- Nasal suction bulb for babies
- Allergy medication
- Heartburn medicine
- Hydrocortisone or antihistamine cream/spray or aloe vera gel
- Decongestants and cough drops for colds and flus
- Diarrhea and constipation treatments
- Eye drops
- Pulse oximeter
As always, if these front-line supplies don’t completely address your health issue, get in touch with your health care provider. Keep the names and contact information of your providers with your supplies.
Remember to check the expiration dates before ingesting your medication to ensure they are still effective. If some medications have expired, look for a community program that will accept them. Here at the Kaiser Permanente Chase Gardens Medical Office, our pharmacy offers a drug-takeback bin, and other pharmacies may have mailers for returning old medicines.
As a last resort to dispose of drugs, crush them and mix them with cat litter or coffee grounds, then put them in the garbage. Do not flush medications; they could create an environmental issue.
Review any herbal supplements you are taking; some have major interactions with medications.
If you have young children, be sure to install a childproof lock on your medicine cabinet or drawer.
By properly stocking a medicine cabinet, you’re creating a home health care center to help yourself and your family. Be thoughtful about where you store your items and what you stock, and you will have what you need when you need it.
John Luc, Pharm.D., is the pharmacist-in-charge at the Kaiser Permanente Chase Gardens Medical Office in Eugene. More information is at kp.org/lane.