Medicine cabinet essentials include proper location, crucial basics

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Some of us cram our medicine cabinets with items; others do not have enough emergency supplies on hand to be of service when needed. I’m a pharmacist, so patients ask me for advice about what should be in their cabinets. Often they are surprised by my first reaction, which is not to keep medication in a bathroom medicine cabinet.

Yes, it’s a medicine cabinet and it’s in the bathroom. However, moisture from baths and showers will weaken your medication or render it ineffective.

Find a place where they can be stored dry, out of direct sunlight and not exposed to large temperature fluctuations. For example, I keep my supplies in a small drawer in the kitchen. This works because the drawer is away from the heat and moisture of the stove, sink, and dishwasher. Another option is a hall closet. As long as you have a space that meets the criteria for a safe place, you can put your “medicine cabinet” anywhere.

What Should Be Included After Choosing a Good Location for Your Medicine Cabinet?

Here is a starting list:

  • Digital thermometer
  • Activated charcoal for poisoning; Keep the poison control center phone number, 1-800-222-1222, with the charcoal.
  • Bandages and adhesive strips
  • Painkillers and fever killers (remember: no aspirin, not even baby aspirin, for children under 12 years of age)
  • tweezers
  • Antibiotic ointment and / or calamine lotion
  • Heat and ice packs

Depending on your needs, you can add:

  • Tablet cutter
  • Nasal aspirators for babies
  • Allergy medication
  • Heartburn medicine
  • Hydrocortisone or antihistamine cream / spray or aloe vera gel
  • Decongestants and cough drops for colds and flu
  • Treatment of diarrhea and constipation con
  • eye drop
  • Pulse oximeter

As always, if these frontline supplies don’t completely solve your health problem, see your doctor. Keep the names and contact information of your suppliers with your supplies.

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Remember to check the expiration date before taking your medications to make sure they are still working. If some medications have expired, find a community program that will accept them. Here at the Kaiser Permanente Chase Gardens Medical Office, our pharmacy has a medication waste bin, and other pharmacies may have mailings for returning old medication.

As a last resort to dispose of drugs, shred them up, mix them with cat litter or coffee grounds, and then throw them in the trash. Do not flush medication; they could cause an environmental problem.

Check out all of the herbal supplements you are taking; some have great drug interactions.

If you have young children, be sure to install child safety locks on your medicine cabinet or drawer.

By properly stocking a medicine cabinet, you are creating a home health center that will help yourself and your family. Think about where you store your items and what you have in stock and you will have what you need when you need it.

John Luc, Pharm.D., Is the pharmacist in charge of the medical office at Kaiser Permanente Chase Gardens in Eugene. More information is available at

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