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Medicine cabinet must-haves: 9 essentials every household should have on hand

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What’s in your medicine cabinet?

In the event of aches and pains, allergic reactions or even a minor medical emergency, do you have the essential supplies?

Fox News Digital spoke with two experts — Dr. Jennifer Bourgeois, a pharmacist based in Dallas-Fort Worth, and Katy Dubinsky, a New York pharmacist and the CEO and co-founder of Vitalize, a private supplement company — who identified the most important medical staples that every household should have on hand.

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Here’s a list of 9 key staples. 

1. Pain relievers

Common pain relievers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen are important for treating headaches, easing achy muscles, reducing inflammation and lowering fevers, according to Bourgeois.

Here are the nine most important medical staples that every household should have on hand. (iStock)

“These are simply medicine cabinet essentials,” she said. 

2. Allergy medications

“Each allergy medication is designed to treat specific symptoms, so it’s important to find the correct over-the-counter medicine in order to manage and relieve your allergy symptoms,” Bourgeois said. 

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Antihistamines like Claritin, Allebgra and Zyrtec may treat symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis — also known as hay fever, which causes sneezing and itching.

A decongestant medication like Sudafed or Afrin nasal spray treats congestion or headaches. 

3. Cold, cough and flu medicines

It’s important to pick your over-the-counter cold medication carefully, based on the specific symptoms you’re experiencing, according to Bourgeois. 

“For example, to combat a cough, you’ll want to take dextromethorphan (Delsym or Robitussin),” she said. 

Jennifer Bourgeois

Dr. Jennifer Bourgeois, PharmD, is a pharmacy and health expert based in Dallas-Fort Worth. (Jennifer Bourgeois/SingleCare)

“For aches, pains and fever, you’ll want to take ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Cough drops are also medicine cabinet staples.”

Decongestants with pseudoephedrine can help relieve nasal congestion, she noted. 

“For medications that contain pseudoephedrine, you will need to access these through the pharmacy, as federal regulations require that these medications are kept behind the counter.”

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Combination medications can be helpful when experiencing multiple symptoms, but it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients to prevent doubling up.

“Sometimes a person may not benefit from all the ingredients in a combination product,” Bourgeois said. 

“Combination products often contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief, and it’s important that the patient not take more pain relievers in addition to the combination product.”

4. Digestive aids 

Digestive aids shouldn’t be used regularly, Bourgeois said, but they are important in stomach-related times of need. 

“Antacids for heartburn relief (Tums or Rolaids), antidiarrheals (such as loperamide, i.e., Imodium), and laxatives (such as Dulcolax and Miralax) are must-haves for the medicine cabinet,” she said. 

Stomach pain

Although digestive aids shouldn’t be used regularly, they are important in stomach-related times of need, one pharmacist said. (iStock)

“Pepto-Bismol is a great catch-all for stomach issues, as it can provide relief from heartburn, diarrhea and nausea.”

5. Topical treatments

Topical treatments like hydrocortisone are important to have on hand in case you experience a rash or bug bite, as they help reduce localized inflammation and itching, Bourgeois said.

“To help with dry, itchy skin or minor skin irritations, Aquaphor is another great product for your medicine cabinet, as it helps moisturize the skin,” she added. 

“And parents of infants and toddlers know that triple paste is a must-have for treating diaper rash and skin irritation.”

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Calamine lotion also helps to soothe irritation from insect bites, rashes or chicken pox, according to Dubinsky.

“Antifungal creams such as Clotrimazole and Terbinafine are also useful for treating fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, jock itch and ringworm,” she added.

6. First aid supplies

“The quick and easy version of this is to purchase a first-aid kit,” Bourgeois said. 

Band-Aid on a finger

Experts recommend keeping a first aid kit in the home and another in the car. (iStock)

For those who want to purchase à la carte, she recommends including adhesive bandages, large 4″ x 4″ gauze pads, a gauze roll, antiseptic wipes, antibiotic ointment to prevent infection (such as Neosporin), compression dressings, a cold compress, hydrocortisone ointment (such as Cortisone 10), tweezers (for splinters and ticks) and a thermometer. 

“I suggest keeping one of these kits in your house and another one in your car,” Bourgeois said.

7. Sun safety and treatment

When selecting sunscreen, Bourgeois recommends opting for a broad-spectrum variety with an SPF of at least 30. 

“Broad-spectrum means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays,” she noted. 

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Mineral-based sunscreens, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are considered safe and provide a physical barrier that reflects UV rays, Bourgeois said.  

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation before it penetrates the skin.

Woman squeezes sunscreen into hand

When selecting sunscreen, an expert recommends opting for a broad-spectrum variety with an SPF of at least 30.  (iStock)

“When you’ve had too much sun exposure, I advise applying a moisturizer that contains aloe vera to help soothe the sunburn and relieve irritation,” Bourgeois said. 

“In addition to aloe vera, a cold compress can also help reduce swelling and alleviate any discomfort.”

8. Neti-pot/saline rinse

Using a sinus rinse can help flush out allergens and mucus from the nasal cavities, Bourgeois noted.

“Allergies increase mucus production as a mechanism to clear out the allergens, but excessive mucus production can accumulate in the sinus cavities, creating an environment for viral and bacterial infections to thrive,” she warned. 

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“Flushing out the nasal cavity can help reduce allergy symptoms and eliminate potential infections from arising.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a how-to guide showing proper technique and best practices.

9. Eyedrops

Eyedrops such as Visine and Systane are a must-have for moisturizing dry eyes or alleviating redness, according to Dubinsky.

Proper storage and disposal

When storing medications, it’s important to keep them in a cool, dry place away from heat and moisture, which can degrade their effectiveness, according to Dubinsky.

“Avoid storing them in the bathroom, where humidity is typically high,” she told Fox News Digital.

Woman with eye drops

“Regularly check expiration dates and safely dispose of expired medications,” an expert advised. “Expired medications can lose potency or become harmful.” (iStock)

“Most medications should be stored at room temperature, between 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C),” Bourgeois noted. 

The pharmacists recommend routinely checking the expiration dates on your prescriptions and safely disposing of any that are past their shelf life. 

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“Expired medications can lose potency or become harmful,” Bourgeois warned.

It’s also important to store medications in their original packaging to ensure that you have access to expiration dates, dosage instructions and other important information, she added.

“While over-the-counter medications are safe and available for self administration, it’s best to consult with a health care professional to determine if a product is right for you.”

When disposing of expired medications, follow local guidelines. 

“Many pharmacies offer take-back programs for unused drugs,” noted Bourgeois.

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If there are children in the house, use childproof containers and store medications out of reach. 

“Consider a locked cabinet if necessary,” Bourgeois advised.

medicine cabinet

If there are children in the house, use childproof containers and store medications out of reach, experts advised. (iStock)

If you have any questions about which medications are safe and effective, it’s best to consult with your doctor, the experts agreed.

“While over-the-counter medications are safe and available for self administration, it’s best to consult with a health care professional to determine if a product is right for you,” Bourgeois said. 

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“This is particularly true if you have a chronic disease or take prescription medications, as there are some over-the-counter medications that may interact with your current prescription.”

When it comes to specific interactions and treatment indications, your pharmacist is a great resource, Bourgeois added.



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