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What should a well-stocked medicine cabinet contain?

The question

What should a well-stocked medicine cabinet contain?

The answer

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Before we get into what items you should keep in your medicine cabinet, here are some tips on safety:

Safe storage Contrary to popular belief, the bathroom is not a good storage place for your medicines. The humidity and heat from showers can put your medicine at risk for deterioration. A cool, dark and dry place that is out of reach of children, such as a linen closet, is a better option.

Expiry dates Most expired medications are generally not toxic but they can lose their effectiveness over time. Check expiry dates at least once a year. One trick is to check expiry dates at the same time you check your fire alarms.

Original containers Keep all items in their original containers to prevent confusion and to keep potentially expired medications from mixing with unexpired medications.

Medication disposal When you find an expired product, do not flush it down the toilet or throw it in the garbage as these medications can end up in our water system. Bring medications to a local pharmacy where they will be disposed in a safe and environmentally sound way.

Having the right assortment of items in your cabinet can prevent late-night runs to the drug store. Here are some items you may want to consider keeping. Remember that generic medication works well, is less expensive and has the same active ingredients as brand name products.

Mild to moderate pain and fever relief An acetaminophen like Tylenol is effective for aches, minor injuries and arthritis pain. Ibuprofen, such as Advil or Motrin, is an anti-inflammatory that is useful for aches, menstrual cramps and sprains.

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Indigestion, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea Most gastrointestinal problems resolve on their own, so first think about giving your stomach a rest from heavy or irritating foods.

That said, you may want to keep antacids (liquid preparations usually work better and faster than tablets) and an anti-diarrhea aid, such as Pepto-Bismol or Imodium, on hand. To fight nausea, consider Gravol or dried ginger, a natural and effective remedy that won't cause drowsiness.

Minor injuries For superficial cuts and scrapes, washing with plain soap and water is adequate. It's a good idea to have an antibacterial cream, such as Polysporin, on hand for minor skin infections.

Others helpful items You may want to consider keeping antihistamines, such as Benadryl (which causes drowsiness) or Claritin. And every medicine cabinet should contain a thermometer and a list phone numbers of doctors, pharmacies and family members.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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