Primary Care Physician
Dr. Orrange received her BA in Biology at the University of California, San Diego, and a Masters Degree in Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. She received her MD from the USC Keck School of…
10 Things You Must Have in Your Medicine Cabinet
Posted in Acne by Dr. Sharon Orrange on Apr 09, 2008

I am often called in the middle of the night by patients who have woken up with hives, a high fever or itching and don't have access to common remedies all of us should have in our medicine cabinet. Let's talk about what you need and why to save you the 1 AM trip to the pharmacy.

1) Pain relievers and fever reducers: The two you need are acetaminophen (Tylenol) and any NSAID (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) which includes ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, or Aleve. For pain or fever you can alternate Tylenol with an NSAID every 4-6 hours because they are two very different medications that can work for you in tandem. An IMPORTANT thing to remember is that while Tylenol is a pain reliever and fever reducer it is NOT an anti-inflammatory so for certain types of pain (tooth pain, acute back pain) an NSAID may be more effective.

2) Antibiotic ointment: For cuts and scrapes you should have Polysporin or Neosporin (both similar topical antibacterials) in your medicine cabinet. I'm not a huge fan of cleaning simple wounds with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. You can wash it with warm water and soap and apply one of the above topical ointments twice a day for a couple of days with a loose band aid.

3) Antacids for heartburn, upset stomach and bloating: Maalox and Mylanta (equivalent ingredients for the most part) are good for quick relief. The H2 blockers like Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet are also a must have as you can take those along with Mylanta or Maalox. Think of the Maalox as soothing and coating the stomach and the H2 blockers following their lead and decreasing the effects of acid on the stomach and esophagus.

4) Allergies: Take advantage of the fact that these are now over the counter. The nonsedating antihistamines (Claritin, Zyrtec) with or without the Sudafed (the "D" part tagged on to the end of the name) should not make you tired and can work for most allergy symptoms.

5) Benadryl: I put this on its own because I think it's so important. Everyone should have Benadryl 25 mg tablets in their medicine cabinet. Benadryl will work for hives and itching from pretty much anything (poison ivy, animal allergies, medication allergies, food allergies). Benadryl's main side effect of making you sleepy is also why you can use it for occasional insomnia. Remember Tylenol PM is just Tylenol with Benadryl.

6) Cold and cough: Let's face it the over the counter cough medicines don't work great if at all. What will help some of the cold symptoms (stuffy nose, ear congestion, and sinus pain) is a decongestant like Sudafed. For a PRODUCTIVE cough where you are bringing up junk an expectorant like Mucinex (Guaifenesin) can work well to help you bring up that junk from your tight chest.

7) Hydrocortisone cream: Again I put this solo because of importance. A 1% topical hydrocortisone cream is essential for relieving itching and inflammation from many skin lesions. You will see many variations of this cream at a pharmacy with different names, with or without aloe, etc. You just need the 1% hydrocortisone cream. Use it to help you with any skin issue that ITCHES: bug bites, poison ivy or any contact dermatitis (an allergic skin reaction from something that touched you).

8) Diarrhea: Immodium (Loperamide) is your best over the counter option. Period.

9) Nausea: There are many anti-emetics that require a prescription but Dramamine over the counter tablets will work well. As you know you can also use them for prevention of motion sickness so they are good to have on hand.

10) Let's call this one "special needs": The MUST HAVE for those of you who are sexually active is CONDOMS. Please people for sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy prevention these are still our BEST option.

Dr O.



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TOTAL COMMENTS: 11 - View All Comments »

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Displaying comments 11-1 of 11
By patriciarose07  Jan 21, 2010

I simply could not agree more, this is even greater if you have kids in your home.

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By SR22Insurance  Jul 26, 2009
I have a big reaction to anything that hints "may cause insomnia or some type of hyper reaction" ie: nose spray, it will keep me wired for speed for two days, same with any antihistamine or histamine type drugs.
I rely on prednisone, and a hydrocodone based cough syrup, trying to remember the name "notuss?" Anyway, any medication that messes with histamines really make me go bonkers.
Doc. Have you treated patients like this before and have any recommendations in this regard? Some antidepressant meds work on histamines as well and I have had no luck with them because of it, I'm pretty much stuck with benzodiazapines and prednisone or going in for a cocktail shot for any relief if I get cold or flu. Suggestions?
By DeltaLimaTango  Oct 23, 2008
this is definetly a good list that I will go by
By Bonnie37  Oct 02, 2008
What about keeping Plan B on hand? It can be difficult to get in an emergency.
By CraftyMomSC  Sep 17, 2008
ctm3: You bring up a GREAT point! This is a list for ADULTS...not kids....I am an adult medicine doctor (Interist) NOT a kid any blogs I post are for adults...Dr J is our pediatrician who will blog about kids stuff.
thanks for reminding me to post that
Dr O.
By DrOrrange  May 16, 2008
This is a great list!
One comment I have-there are so many children with autism now and many of them do have an opposite reaction to Benadryl-they get hyper instead of sleepy. I have both read and heard this from my Mom friends. Oddly, a few drops of a beverage with caffiene will work to relax my DD!
If she had an allergic reaction, I would have to call the Doctor.
Just a thought,
By ctm3  May 15, 2008
I think different types of ice packs are important.
I think emergency meds for specific conditions i.e. asthma.
I carry pepcid, benadryl, prednisone, eppi-pen and albuteral.
I am planning to add the type of ice pack that become active when
squeezed. This will slow down a local reaction to a plant, bug bite or an animal touching your skin and when placed on the sternum is relieving with asthma.

Ice packs also destress, overwhelm and lowers anger levels.
For the emotional soothing, ice packs in your hands, each side of the neck, on cheeks or center of chest(sternum). Check to see if it helps you more to place it on your forehead or the top of your head.

Ice packs help me emmensely.
By AnimalHeadbutts  May 15, 2008
Whoa, Sharon,I actually have all of these at home and carry many of these with me. I use a backpack so no one can see the meds I carry around. I also carry an eppi-pen, prednisone,pepcid, as you mentioned benadryl.

I have a suggestion for you list.
Ice packs, bars or the ones you squeeze and wala it's an ice pack. I have all 3 and a 4th type. I'm not into suffering or being loaded up so ice packs and motrin due well together.
By AnimalHeadbutts  May 14, 2008
yeah, I agree. My GF is constantly having some type of health emergency in the middle of the night, and I always feel that we don't have the necessities in the house to treat it.

By ChantyDS  May 07, 2008
This is great--one of those lists everyone can use.
By nicholas  May 07, 2008
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