Is Your Medicine Cabinet Ready When You Need It?

Published on Jun 10, 2013

“I have a headache and I know aspirin will help relieve it, but I can’t find any in my medicine cabinet!” Is your medicine cabinet ready when you need it? Here are three questions to ask yourself – and actions you can take to make sure that you have the right medicines and supplies when you need them.

1. Do you know what’s in your medicine cabinet? Your medicine cabinet should hold important items to help you maintain your health or respond to an injury. Here are a few that you or your family members may need on a regular basis, so it’s a good idea to keep them available:

  • First Aid items (because anyone can get a cut or a scrape), including bandages, gauze, and topical antibiotic ointment
  • Allergy, cough and cold relief products
  • Pain relievers and fever reducers, such as anti-inflammatory, over the counter medications

If you have children in the household, make sure to have all the information you need to give them the right dose. You should know their current weight and have a measuring dropper, spoon, or syringe so you can measure the dose accurately. Also, look for a form of the medicine that is easy for your child to take. Splitting pills isn’t an effective way to halve the dose. If you take prescription medications on a regular basis, be sure to keep an adequate supply in stock.

Even if you are well prepared, when the unexpected happens you may need something that is not in your medicine cabinet. Plan ahead by keeping the address and phone number of your nearest 24-hour pharmacy taped to your medicine cabinet door or in some other handy location. Or save the pharmacy information in the address book on your phone.

2. Who has access to your medicine cabinet? Make sure the right people have access (or, are prevented from accessing) healthcare products in your home.

  • Keep medicines and other healthcare products out of the reach of children
  • Lock it up to protect children from accidental overdoses (just a few over-the-counter (OTC) iron pills can kill a baby), but also because opioid pain relievers, some medicines to treat ADHD, and other medicines can be taken by workers, visitors or robbers. In fact, 80% of prescription opioids that are misused come from a friend or relative
  • If you or someone in your family has arthritis or a joint condition, childproof medication caps can be difficult or even painful to open. Ask your pharmacist to give you easy-to-open caps for your prescription medications. Just be sure to keep medications packaged in this way out of the reach of children! Some over-the-counter medications also come in bottles with easy-to-open caps

3. Are the medicines and supplies in your medicine cabinet current? It's important to check your medicine cabinet for products that may be expired, so schedule some time every six months for a medicine cabinet clean out and restock. Almost everything in our medicine cabinets has an expiration date, from pain relievers to sunscreen, dental floss and makeup. Expired medicines may not be as effective and can sometimes be dangerous. Expired products should be discarded properly; for medications, follow the instructions on the label or package insert. Don’t flush the medication or pour it down a sink or drain unless you are instructed to do so by your doctor, pharmacist or the drug label.

You can also look for community events like “national take back day” as a safe way to dispose of some medicines and help ensure they don’t’ find their way to the street. For more information about the proper disposal of expired medicines, visit the FDA's website.

Also, check for recalls! You can search for recalled products here.

Finally, you can help preserve the usefulness of your healthcare products by storing them in an area with a well-controlled room temperature. Medicines should be stored in a dry place – so damp bathrooms are not always the best location.

Krupa Paranjpe, Pharm.D., Pfizer Medical Information, previously worked in the retail pharmacy setting

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