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What Should I Be Keeping in My Medicine Cabinet?

Do I actually need to keep gauze around? How long will cough syrup last? Help????

Though I’ve never once had to actually use it, I’m sure that gauze and all those other first-aid supplies are good things to keep in the house — it’s the kind of thing you don’t need until you really need it. But that’s gotta be true of most medicines and medical supplies, right? 

It’s not that hard to go to the store and buy cough syrup or Pepto-Bismol when you’re experiencing the symptoms they address, but it’s certainly not fun and potentially threatens the health of others in the store. Then again, you don’t want to buy a ton of medicines preemptively and not end up using them. So where’s the balance?

Exactly what you need will depend on your household. If you have kids, it’s probably wise to prepare for every scenario, as needing to run to the store for something is way more stressful when you have a sick, crying child on your hands. In addition to children’s strength pain reliever and cold medicines, you’ll also want to have a variety of emergency supplies. As careful as you might be, kids can still do stupid shit like taste laundry detergent or pick up a piece of broken glass. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen, but you’ll want to keep activated charcoal for accidental poisoning and wound-wrapping supplies like the aforementioned gauze on hand for first aid to help until you can bring them to a hospital. Even if you don’t have kids, it’s not a bad idea to keep these things around for the same reason. 

For a basic adult medicine cabinet, you’ll want a few other basics as well. Experts recommend a bottle of your choice of pain reliever (ibuprofen, aspirin, etc), allergy medicine like Benadryl, a cough decongestant and an antacid or stomach medicine like Pepto-Bismol. Ointments like hydrocortisone for rashes or cuts are also good to have around, as are eye drops. 

In terms of tools and other supplies, you probably already have some of the necessities. You’ll want Band-Aids, of course, but cotton swabs, Q-Tips, rubbing alcohol and tweezers are other multi-purpose objects that could come in handy for cleaning a wound. Just make sure you disinfect your tweezers before using them on an open cut. It’s also a good idea to invest in a thermometer if COVID-19 hasn’t pushed you to do so already. 

Obviously, you should have all your usual medications in the house, too. You can ask your doctor or pharmacist for a few emergency doses to keep stored away, and it’ll usually be covered by insurance.

One other thing that doesn’t always make it to these medicine cabinet lists is Narcan. Even if you or no one in your household uses opiates, you never know when it could come in handy. You can get it without a prescription at almost any pharmacy, and the pharmacist can teach you how to use it. 

As for how long these things last, most basic over-the-counter medicines will still be effective within a year or so of their expiration date, which should be at least two years from when you bought it. You’ll want to be a bit stricter about expiration dates with children’s medications, prescriptions and lifesaving medicines like Narcan — if those don’t work as they’re supposed to, the consequences are a bit more severe. 

Admittedly, my own medicine cabinet is rather sad in its contents. I have a bottle of Pepto, some antacid tablets, Dollar Store ibuprofen and a second empty bottle of ibuprofen that my boyfriend put weed pills in like two years ago. I did recently acquire some Band-Aids, though, so it’s getting better. Now I just need to add all the other stuff mentioned above to my grocery list.