What should you have in medicine cabinet?

What should you have in medicine cabinet

Reassess every item in the cupboard. Anything older than 3 months (for liquids) or 12 months (for most tablets) should be thrown away. (Do this in a way that will not expose them to exploring children.) This will eliminate about 80 percent of the contents, and make room for the essentials.

It’s worth spending a couple of hours revitalizing your medicine cabinet. Here is a list of the essentials:

Painkillers and temperature relievers

Aspirin (and allied compounds) and paracetamol (and compounds) are the most widely used. Keep some of either type handy. The dose is usually written on the label. Keep in closed containers. For children five years and under, paracetamol elixir is probably safer. Aspirin is notorious for irritating the stomach lining and can cause hemorrhage in children.

Cough linctus

In winter many people develop a cough. Many good lines are available which bring partial relief. Pholcodine (in any of its brand names) is worthwhile and safe. This is readily available over the counter and is quite inexpensive. Or, more simply, lemon plus honey (two to one ratio) is effective, particularly at night when chemist shops are closed.

Diphenoxylate / Atropine

This is common all year round. Although fluids and starvation usually limit the symptom, Lomotil tablets can often help reduce severe diarrhea in adults (preferably not for children). Having some handy “just in case” can be very helpful, particularly if the symptom arises at night. Simple kaolin and pectin may help, but this has recently been doubted by many doctors.


For allergies that produce mild skin eruptions, bites, mozzie nibbles, hay fever, simple anti-histamine tablets may assist (elixir forms for children). Don’t forget these make you drowsy, so take minimum doses with caution.

Calamine lotion

Itches, from bites and allergies, or rashes, may respond to simple creams and lotions. Calamine-based ones (there are many commercially available, often with anti-itch medication added) can bring soothing relief. More simply, bathing in cool water sometimes brings relief.

Sleeping pills

Today, there is a major swing away from sleeping pills. The less consumed the better. However, keep a small quantity for emergency use. Today, nitrazepam is the current big name. It is much less dangerous than the barbiturates, which are being rapidly phased out. (Scripts for supplies from the doctor are necessary.)

Nasal drops

Some people like to have a bottle of drops to help if a blocked nose is making normal breathing difficult.


Nearly everyone sooner or later will suffer from “dietetic indiscretions” and a couple of tablets will help get rid of wind, reduce acidity, and make the stomach settle down. Most brands are similar, and tablets are usually easier to keep and manage than mixtures.


People who are prone to travel sickness often find benefit from medication before or during their trip. It is handy to have a small supply on hand. Prochlorperazine tablets are often used.

First-aid remedies

Every home needs some items of first-aid. It is worth having the following on hand, and once used, replenish the store:

  • cotton bandages, three 12mm wide and three 50mm wide;
  • two 75mm wide elastic bandages;
  • cotton wool (small pack) for cleaning wounds and for packing injuries before bandaging;
  • 50 adhesive plasters, spots, patches, and pieces, universally useful for the myriad minor injuries, particularly with children;
  • a roll of adhesive tape – often the type that sticks to wet skin is best;
  • a bottle of disinfectant solution, clean water, and soap are also useful for cleaning wounds, cuts, and abrasions;
  • a fine-pointed pair of splinter forceps on hand – these are invaluable for pulling out splinters, and grit and gravel from skin abrasions;
  • a pair of scissors preferably with pointed ends also useful for digging out embedded foreign bodies as well as cutting bandages.

Prescribed medication

In another part of the medicine chest, have your doctor prescribed medicine. If you are on constant medication for a chronic disorder, keep these bottles together on one side so they can be readily available.

It is essential that you take your own medication. Do not swap medicine with other members of the family (friends or neighbors) unless approved by the doctor. Many families have antibiotics on hand. This is okay, provided the bottle is labeled with the name, and you check with the doctor before they are handed around.


On the inside of the cupboard door, have a label clearly-printed bearing the following essential phone numbers: doctor, chemist, poisons information center, ambulance, police. Often trying to find these numbers in the fine print of the phone book under tension and anxiety becomes a major obstacle in an emergency.

Child safety

Today, “childproof bottles'” are available, and many chemists use these for medication that might be dangerous to children. If there is any risk, keep the cabinet locked, but put the key in a place you will not forget. Fortunately, “blister packs” are now becoming popular drug packing, and these reduce the risk of child poisonings from unintentional pill-popping by little ones.

General advice

Shake any mixture well before pouring. Discard any leftovers after an illness. Usually, a doctor prescribes a “course”, meant to be taken in full. Pour mixtures away from the label, otherwise, directions may become obliterated. Do not over-medicate yourself or your children. Often the less you take the better.

Review your medicine cabinet annually, upgrade and clean it out, and you will be happy with its efficiency.

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