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How much of your medicine do you keep in the bathroom? And how much of it is expired? Most of us don't know what's in our medicine cabinet or bathroom drawers until we're rummaging around for something to relieve an upset stomach or a killer headache. That's why doing an occasional inventory is so important. Here's how to be smart about storing meds and keeping your medicine cabinet fully stocked.
Stop storing your meds in the bathroom. It might seem convenient to keep prescriptions near your toothbrush, but the bathroom is the worst possible place to store your medication. "Heat, humidity and poor ventilation can cause drugs to deteriorate so they're not effective," says Bethanne Brown, PharmD, a professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Pharmacy. Instead, keep medications in a top dresser drawer, your nightstand, or in the kitchen away from heat sources; just be sure all drugs are out of your kids' reach. Products that won't be damaged by heat or humidity (so they're fine stored in the bathroom) include rubbing alcohol, petroleum jelly and first aid ointments.
Check expiration dates. Once or twice a year, look at over-the-counter and prescription medications and toss them if they're expired. "Expired medications may not be 100 percent effective. So expired pain medications, for example, may not relieve your pain," says Sophia Demonte, RPh, pharmacy manager at Costco in Nesconset, New York. "And some expired drugs, such as tetracycline, can be toxic." Many pharmacies accept old medications for proper disposal. You can also check with your town for hazardous waste drop-off days.
Stock up on the basics. After purging old medications, replenish your supply with these pain, cold and flu, and first aid products that every household should keep on hand:
- Pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen
- Antacids such as Tums (calcium carbonate)
- Antibiotic ointment such as neomycin for cuts and scrapes
- Anti-itch ointment such as 1% hydrocortisone for bites and rashes
- Digital thermometer (ear or oral)
- Antidiarrheal product such as Immodium (loperamide)
- Decongestant such as Sudafed (pseudoephedrine)
- Antihistamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) or Claritin (loratadine)
- Instant hot and cold packs for bumps, sprains and aches
- Tweezers for splinter removal
- Eye wash kit for rinsing debris out of eyes
- Hydrogen peroxide for cleaning wounds before bandaging
- Isopropyl alcohol (70 percent) for wiping down a thermometer after use
- Skin protectant such as petroleum jelly or zinc oxide for skin irritations
- Various sizes of bandages
The good news is that some things last indefinitely, like alcohol, petroleum jelly and zinc oxide will if stored properly.