Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article incorrectly described guaifenesin as a mild cough suppressant. Guaifenesin is an expectorant.

What needs to be in every medicine cabinet

By Melissa Bell
Thursday, February 18, 2010

A few weeks ago, it seemed a 24-hour pharmacy would always be a quick car ride away, but the record snowfalls remind us of that old Boy Scout saw: Be prepared. As the snow melts, clean out expired medicine, toss the extra bottles of lotion you never use and stock up on supplies that cover common illnesses and injuries.

"Anything more than that, go to the emergency room," said Dave Toth, a pharmacist at the Dupont Circle Tschiffely Pharmacy. We asked Toth and other experts to tell us the basics we should all keep at home.

Neosporin It accelerates the healing of wounds, soothes burns and lessens the likelihood of scarring.

Bandages Non-stick gauze pads and Band-Aids of various sizes. "If you're an athlete and get into trouble with minor accidents and sprains, keep Ace bandages," said Jehan "Gigi" El-Bayoumi, an internist at the George Washington University School of Medicine.

Hydrogen peroxide Although rubbing alcohol can also be used to disinfect wounds, Alicia Arbaje, a geriatrician at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, prefers hydrogen peroxide, as it can be used to rinse your mouth th heal canker sores or to soothe a sore throat.

Benadryl "This is only if someone is stung by a bee, or they are allergic to seafood and break out in hives," said Arbaje, but it should not be taken regularly as a solution for daily allergies, especially if you're elderly. (If you have a young child, make sure to also stock up on the children's version of Benadryl, as well as other pain relievers and first-aid supplies.)

Tylenol For pain relief or fever, Arbaje recommends Tylenol, or the generic brand of acetaminophen. "Always buy generic and not brand name," El-Bayoumi said. "If you look at the label it's the same thing," but you pay a premium for the brand name.

Aspirin Products with aspirin can cause ulcers or kidney failures and should never be given to children. "However, if anyone has diabetes, stroke or heart disease, they should keep aspirin further back in the medicine cabinet. If they start to feel symptoms related to a heart attack, they should take the aspirin," said Arbaje. If you want to keep a medicine around for anti-inflammation, El-Bayoumi said products with aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen all generally work the same and it is really just a personal preference as to which one to take.

Thermometer Toth recommends mercury-free glass thermometers: "I don't like the digital ones. The batteries are either dead or it beeps too soon."

Robitussin Robitussin or its generic name, guaifenesin, an expectorant, can help people feel more comfortable during a nasty cold. El-Bayoumi said people should go for the most basic form of the medicine, and stay away from "multi-system cold and medicine concoctions" as "people end up taking things they don't need." If symptoms persist, they should head to the doctor, not try to take more medicine to combat the illness.

Neti Pot Nasal saline spray helps moisturize the nasal passages, but Arbaje likes to keep a Neti Pot on hand. The teapot-shaped vessel pours hot water through the sinuses and keeps your nose clean when you have allergies or a cold.

Vicks VapoRub Arbaje suggests storing the mentholated Vicks VapoRub to spread on the chest for kids and for adults because it helps open up air passages during a bad cold.

Plan B The morning-after pill may not be a must-have for every family, but El-Bayoumi said, "for women who are sexually active, even if they're married, it probably wouldn't hurt to have Plan B."

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