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Give Your Medicine Cabinet A Makeover For The New Year

As we approach the New Year, Dr. Donnica urges you to give your medicine cabinet a long overdue makeover. There are now more than 300,000 over-the-counter medicines available in the United States. Dr. Donnica discusses what should be in the medicine cabinet and what shouldn't, what first aid products every family should have, and how to organize your home remedies so that they're easily accessible when and where you need them most.

When was the last time you cleaned out your medicine chest or cabinet? If you're like most people, this important task is long overdue. The end of the year is a good reminder to take everything out, clean it thoroughly, and only put back what really needs to be there.

Where Should You Keep Your Medicines?

Location, location, location is not only the mantra of real estate agents, but a critically important issue for your medicines. Keeping your medication in the ideal locations can maximize safety and also improve compliance (your ability to take your medication properly and get the best results).

  • Keep ALL medicines out of reach of children. Even things that are presumably safe can be toxic if a child drinks a whole bottle of it. Remember also that a motivated child can drag a chair into the bathroom, climb on top of the sink and reach whatever s/he wants to explore: even I learned this the hard way! Don't be lured into complacency by "child-proof" caps: when I have difficulty opening some of these bottles, my children usually have no trouble. Don't be lured into complacency by having children who are older (teenagers especially) who "should know better": I have treated several kids school age and up (especially teenagers) who either tried to kill themselves or to "get a buzz" by overdosing on aspirin, Tylenol®, sleeping pills, or other prescription medications. If your child ever makes comments like "I wish I were dead", take this seriously and seek professional help if necessary.

  • Store medicines properly. Some medicines need to be refrigerated (e.g. certain antibiotics, vitamins, or suppositories), some need to be kept in the dark (e.g. peroxide). If you have uncertainties or any questions, your pharmacist is an excellent resource. If you take any medicines requiring injections, store your syringes and needles safely, out of reach of children, and dispose of them properly in medical hazard boxes, not in the trash.

  • Store your medicines where you are most likely to need them. In deciding where to best keep your different medicines, consider your lifestyle. While most medicines are easily stored in your bathroom medicine chest, this may not be the ideal place for medicines (including vitamins) that are best taken with meals or after eating. I recommend keeping those in a kitchen cabinet (my spice cabinet has more medicines than spices!). If you use barrier contraceptives, for example, they are probably best kept in a drawer by your bedside. Sleeping pills, on the other hand, probably should not be kept at the bedside: that makes it too easy to roll over and take one when you might not really need to do so. First aid products (see below) should be kept together, in the kitchen, and in the car.

  • Medicines on the go. If your lifestyle is one where you travel a lot, have swing shifts, or are simply not in the same location every morning, you may be best off carrying your daily medications in your pocket book, brief case or toiletries kit. This is also a good strategy for someone who just can't remember to take their medications every morning, especially women on the go who take birth control pills. If it's in your purse, you can take it as soon as you remember in the morning. If you have medication that must be taken in emergencies or as soon as you have certain symptoms (e.g. patients with migraine, asthma, diabetes, heart problems, or pain medications for example), carry it with you at all times. If you are traveling by air, bus or rail, don't keep your important medicines in your checked luggage; keep it in your carry-on baggage. Before traveling on any overnight trip, be sure you have enough of your prescription medication to last for your entire stay, and be sure you have a copy or your prescription or your physician's phone number with you in the event that your medicine is lost or stolen so that another prescription can be called in to a pharmacy near you.
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 Keeping your medication in the ideal locations can maximize safety and also improve compliance. 

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