Experts say there's one area of the home that's often neglected when it's time for a major updating -- the home medicine cabinet. Yet with more than 300,000 over-the-counter medicines available, how do you know what should be in your medicine cabinet and what shouldn't?
Dr. Donnica Moore, a leading women's health expert, columnist and TV personality, offers the following tips on what to have on hand and how to organize your in-home pharmacy so what you need is readily available when you need it.
"The most effective way to tackle the task is to take inventory. Assess what's already there and then make a list of over-the-counter medications and other supplies that should be in your medicine cabinet," advises Dr. Moore.
Some common medications you should have on-hand include:
Headache/pain/fever medicines: Depending on the ages and specific needs of your family members, you may need to stock several different types pain relief medicines.
Aspirin, for example, is considered one of the most universal products: it reduces fever, pain and inflammation; can be taken by many people daily to reduce the risk of heart attack or certain types of stroke; and is even given in emergency situations when someone is having a heart attack.
However, aspirin is not recommended for children under the age of 12 without medical supervision or in the last trimester of pregnancy, so acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be needed as well. It's always wise to check with a physician when taking aspirin on a regular basis, particularly if there are heart concerns.
Cough/cold/flu symptom products: There are actually five different categories of ingredients, including decongestant, cough suppressant, expectorant, anti-histamine, and fever/pain reducers. Throat lozenges and mouthwash are also helpful to have on hand.
Allergy products: These are helpful for allergic reactions of the skin, including those from insect bites or the treatment of certain recurrent skin conditions such as eczema. Stock generic hydrocortisone cream 1 percent (a steroid) or an antihistamine cream (e.g., Benadryl or diphenhydramine cream).
Products for stomach upset or constipation-related problems: Choose a brand you've had experience with and keep it on hand. Many products in this category will help with more than one type of problem. For example, some products for indigestion also help with nausea or diarrhea as well as calcium supplementation. If constipation is a problem for adult family members, keep a gentle stimulant-laxative on hand such as Dulcolax.
Antibiotic creams and ointments. For minor cuts, scrapes and burns, keep an antibiotic cream or ointment on hand.
Dr. Moore also advises making a periodic clean sweep of your medicine cabinet and its contents. "Medicine cabinets can become a haven for expired medicines and half-empty bottles of shampoo," she notes. So it's important to stay organized so you know what medications and supplies need to replenished.
Dr. Moore suggests throwing out medicines that have passed their expiration date -- even if an entire bottle remains; tossing "left-over" prescription medications from previous illnesses; keeping all medicines -- prescription and OTC -- out of the reach of children; and storing all medicines according to package directions.
For more information concerning medicine cabinet essentials, Dr. Moore recommends talking to your family physician or pediatrician.