Headache, upset stomach, sinus problems, menstrual pain, athlete's foot, dandruff, lip conditions, dry skin and the common cold -- chances are you've had one if not more than one of them. They're the most common, everyday health complaints, and while you may not be able to prevent them with a little at-home preparation, you can knock each of them out for the count and just maybe avoid a visit to your doctor. The secret? A well-stocked medicine chest.
First things first: You've got to take stock of what's in there already -- and then clean and restock it annually. Toss out old supplies and anything that's damaged (damaged container, unreadable or missing labels, broken or discolored pills) or past its expiration date. This is also the time to get your prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines out of there, and not just because your guests might snoop. A "medicine" chest isn't actually for storing your medicines, however convoluted that may sound. The humidity in your bathroom isn't good for medicine, most of which can deteriorate quickly in moisture -- you may like a steamy shower, but your pills don't. Store them instead in a cool, dark and dry place in another room.
If medicine doesn't belong in a medicine chest, what does? We've compiled a list of the 10 essentials, from symptom relief to first aid, along with tips for homes with kids and pets.
10: Adhesive Bandages
Adhesive bandages come in a variety of shapes and colors, from clear to camouflage, and there should be a stash in your medicine chest.
Most scrapes do just fine uncovered, but if you cut or scrape yourself in a place where the wound could get dirty (such as a paper cut on your hand), or where your clothing will rub against it (such as a scraped knee), you're smart to cover it with an adhesive bandage.
Have a deep cut or can't stop the bleeding? See a doctor.
9: Nail Clippers
Adopting frequent nail maintenance habits keeps nails healthy and free from infection. Healthy fingernails and toenails are clean, dry and kept short. Nails should be cut straight across to prevent ingrown nails, rounded slightly at the tips and have smooth nail edges to prevent snagging and tearing.
A few helpful hints when performing your routine maintenance: Be sure not to cut nails below the nail bed or pull on hangnails, which should be clipped, not chewed -- either can open the door to bacterial, fungal and viral infections (warts). And don't dig out an ingrown toenail -- go to a dermatologist for treatment.
When you have a minor cut or scrape, how do you clean it out? While soap and water can take care of cleaning most cuts and scrapes, an antiseptic may help reduce the risk of infection. There are many kinds on the market, some with mild anesthetics to reduce the pain. However, two common standbys are hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, which kill bacteria on contact.
And having a bottle of isopropyl alcohol around comes in handy for other uses, too -- it'll clean your bathroom fixtures, tweezers and thermometers, remove hairspray from the bathroom mirror and even prevent ring around the collar.
7: Muscle Cream
Having a muscle cream, balm, self-heating wrap or heating pad on hand to soothe sore muscles or ease lower-back pain is a must. In a recent study, anti-inflammatory skin cream reduced soreness by 45 percent in the 48 hours after exercise over pain reliever pills [source: WebMD].
The ingredients in topical creams and adhesive patches like Icy Hot and Bengay are absorbed through your skin into your bloodstream, meaning you should be stingy with how frequently you apply them. Many contain an ingredient called methyl salicylate which is similar to aspirin, and just like aspirin, it can be toxic in high doses. Be safe -- use anti-inflammatory treatments in moderation. Or instead try remedies such as Tiger Balm or massage.
A pair of fine-tipped tweezers will remove things lodged under your skin and keep you pretty -- quite a multitasker.
More importantly, though, keeping tweezers in your at-home treatment kit allows you to remove foreign objects from your skin -- namely, splinters and ticks.
Most splinters have one end sticking out from your skin. Grab that end with your tweezers and pull it out slowly to be sure it doesn't leave any pieces behind.
Tick removal is a little more difficult. Take hold of the tick's head with your tweezers and pull away from your skin. Be slow and gentle to avoid crushing the tick. Ignore the myths about using nail polish, petroleum jelly or hot matches to get ticks out -- you need tweezers for this task.
5: Sterile Gauze and Medical Tape
Sterile gauze (in either pad or roll form) and medical tape are for injuries that require something bigger than an adhesive bandage. To dress a wound with the gauze and tape combination, first cut a piece of the material to fit the size of the wound or wrap gauze around it from the roll. Then secure the material in place with the tape.
Remember to change the bandage if the bandage gets wet or dirty -- and if the gauze sticks to a scab or part of the wound, soak the area in warm water to loosen things up.
4: Fungal Medicine
If you find yourself with athlete's foot, don't let it spread to jock itch. To help prevent it, give your groin first priority: After showing, dry your groin before drying your feet (don't let your towel pass it around).
Getting rid of fungal infections is a tricky business. Treatments can be time-consuming and often need to be continued after the symptoms have disappeared -- and chances of re-infection are high. Fungi overgrowth can cause infections in skin and nails, the vagina, the mouth and the sinuses. These should all be treated by your doctor. However, you can usually treat athlete's foot at home with nonprescription fungal medicines (which come in a variety of forms like cream, spray, gel and powders).
3: Dental Floss
If you brush but don't floss, you're not cleaning 100 percent of bacteria out of your mouth -- in fact, you're missing 40 percent of it [source: Family Gentle Dental Care]. Brushing alone sweeps away plaque but only from the surface of your teeth. Floss removes it from between teeth and from under the gum line and is the easiest way to prevent gingivitis -- an infection that does more than irritate your gums. It can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Gum disease is preventable, yet it's the No. 1 reason adults lose their teeth [source: Lewis]. Keep your teeth: floss daily, after meals.
2: Calibrated Measuring Spoon
Taking a swig of cough suppressant straight from the bottle or with a soup spoon from your kitchen may not seem like a bad idea when your head is fuzzy from a cold. But it's always important to dispense and take the correct dose of medicine -- the results may not be the same at a different doses and you could run into serious health problems if you take more medicine than you should. Some medicines come packaged with a measuring cup, but since that's not standard practice, a calibrated measuring spoon (or calibrated measuring cup) makes it easy to administer the correct dose of medicine for adults and for kids every time.
Everyone should keep a thermometer on hand to check for fevers. What you may not know is what kind of thermometer to have.
Poison control centers around the country receive 15,000 phone calls each year due to broken glass mercury thermometers [source: Health Care Without Harm]. Mercury is a neurotoxin that poisons our nervous systems, damaging the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. It also affects our hearing, speech and sight, as well as how we think and feel. Human health isn't the only concern about mercury: It's also bad for the health of our environment.
If you still have one, it's time to switch. Many states offer mercury thermometer exchange programs. Get yourself a safer alternative such as a digital electronic thermometer, a glass alcohol thermometer, a glass gallium-indium-tin (galinstan) thermometer, an ear canal thermometer, or a flexible forehead thermometer.
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More Great Links
- "Athlete's Foot -- Home Treatment." WebMD. 2006. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/athletes-foot-home-treatment
- "Flossing." Family Gentle Dental Care. http://www.dentalgentlecare.com/flossing.htm
- "Fungal Infections: Introduction." The Merck Manual Home Edition. Merck & Co., Inc. 2003. http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec17/ch197/ch197a.html
- "Girl Dies After Using Excess of Muscle Cream." ABC News. 2007. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3263343
- Lewis, Carol. "Fighting Gum Disease: How to Keep Your Teeth." FDA Consumer magazine. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2002. http://www.fda.gov/Fdac/features/2002/302_gums.html
- Lewis, Carol. "Your Medicine Cabinet Needs an Annual Checkup, Too." FDA Consumer magazine. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2000. http://www.fda.gov/FDAC/features/2000/200_med.html
- "Managing Your Medicine Cabinet." Revolution Health. 2006. http://www.revolutionhealth.com/conditions/first-aid-safety/first-aid-kit/supplies/medicine-cabinet
- Marshall, Mallika. "Medicine Cabinet Must-Haves." The Early Show. CBS News. 2008. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/09/05/earlyshow/health/main4421225.shtml
- "Mercury - The Issue." Health Care Without Harm. http://www.noharm.org/us/mercury/issue
- "Morning Workout Drinks, Muscle-Cream Danger and More." Health. 2008. http://living.health.com/2008/04/09/morning-workout-drinks-muscle-cream/
- "Nails: How to keep your fingernails healthy and strong." Mayo Clinic. 2007. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nails/WO00020
- "Nail Fungus & Nail Health." American Academy of Dermatology. 2008. http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/common_nail.html
- Oz, Mehmet. "Dr. Oz's Medicine Chest." Esquire. 2008. http://www.esquire.com/features/ask-dr-oz/medicine-cabinet-0608
- Rauh, Sherry. "Healthy Fingernails: Clues About Your Health." WebMD. 2008.http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/healthy-fingernails-clues-about-health
- "Rubbing Alcohol." Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things. Reader's Digest. http://www.rd.com/advice-and-know-how/extraordinary-uses-for-rubbing-alcohol/article24001.html
- "Skin Cream Soothes Sore Muscles." WebMD. 2003. http://arthritis.webmd.com/news/20030715/skin-cream-soothes-sore-muscles
- "Splinters Treatment." WebMD. 2006. http://firstaid.webmd.com/splinters_treatment_firstaid.htm
- "Thermometer Fact Sheet." Health Care Without Harm. http://www.noharm.org/library/docs/Going_Green_Thermometer_Fact_Sheet.pdf
- "Thermometers: Taking your child's temperature." CNN. 2006. http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/HQ/01481.html
- "Tick Removal." Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/Lyme/ld_tickremoval.htm
- Udesky, Laurie. "Storing Your Medicine." CVS Health Resources. CVS Pharmacy. 2008. http://www.cvshealthresources.com/topic/medstorage
- "What should I keep in my medicine cabinet?" NHS 24. 2008. http://www.nhs24.com/content/default.asp?page=s3_4_4
- "What to keep in your medicine chest when you've got a toddler in the house." BabyCenter. http://www.babycenter.com/0_what-to-keep-in-your-medicine-chest-when-youve-got-a-toddler_11778.bc
- "Your Dog's Medicine Cabinet." Pet Place. http://www.petplace.com/dogs/your-dog-s-medicine-cabinet/page1.aspx