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The cabinet chore

Updating the contents of your medicine cabinet may work in your favor when the need arises.

By Darleth Romana-Bantiles, M.D.

JULY 2013 

One morning, Norma woke up with tired, itchy eyes and headed straight for the medicine cabinet in her bathroom. Fumbling for a bottle, she put a drop of fluid on her left eye without looking at the label. Instead of giving relief, the drop cost a trip to the emergency room—as it was massage oil. It was a costly and painful experience that taught her a lesson about the importance of having a prepared first aid kit at home.

The medicine cabinet is the first line of defense that should always be ready. However, its benefits may only be maximized if the cabinet’s contents are organized and periodically replenished. Clearing the cabinet needn’t be a daunting chore. Try the following steps to make the duty of arranging the medicine cabinet easier:

Check your inventory

Take note of the medications and other items in the cabinet. Discard expired items. Also note the items that are almost reaching their expiration dates. If there are worn out containers with labels that are not readable, throw them, too.

According to Carlos Primero Gundran, M.D., an emergency medicine physician and associate professor at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital, items should be disposed as soon their expiration dates come. “Grace periods” beyond the stamped date shouldn’t be entertained, because potency may be compromised, aside from the risks of consuming expired products.

Over-the-counter medications for common ailments may be stocked up, as well as antibiotics that are usually consumed by the potential beneficiaries of the medicine cabinet—consult your healthcare provider about this. This is especially indicated if you’re in a location where there’s no easily accessible pharmacy or convenience store. Caution must be exercised in storing anti-diarrheal medicine, though. “Diarrhea is the body’s way to get rid of harmful toxins,” says Dr. Gundran, stressing the importance of hydration in this scenario more than stopping the loose bowel movements.

It may also be helpful to have other items for emergencies in the cabinet, like a thermometer, dosing cap or dropper, whistle, flashlight, petroleum jelly, insect repellent and calamine lotion.

Organize your forces

Come up with a classification system, perhaps according to indication, such as wounds, burns, cough, headache; or body parts like the head, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, lungs; or categories such as first aid, beauty, or personal meds. Just make sure that everyone who will use the cabinet is notified of the system. An inventory may be posted or placed with the items, indicating the groupings. Drug interaction mechanisms and indications may also be included in this list, along with important emergency numbers like the physician’s clinic, poison control or animal bite center.

You may also decide to separate non-medical items and place them in a different shelf or container—as most households also store toiletries and beauty products in the medicine cabinet. A clutter-free medicine cabinet will keep you free from worries of disarray, and will provide faster access, especially in emergency situations.

Schedule regular inspections and evaluations

Dr. Gundran recommends that once consumed, medicines should be replenished, so that they will always be available. Additionally, monthly or periodic inspection of the contents of your medicine cabinet can prevent you from overlooking the stocks needed.

Another tip: If there are kids who will potentially benefit from the cabinet, have pediatric versions of the medicines mentioned above—and it is highly important to keep these medications out of children’s reach.

Lastly, the best place to put the medicine cabinet is a dry, dark area to avoid humidity from affecting the physical state of your pills or drugs. And if there’s no cabinet to speak of, a clean, sturdy and lightweight plastic container—preferably with partitions—that opens easily may also be an alternative.

Your medicine cabinet may be a treasure chest that holds boundless relief from aches and pains—but it’s your responsibility to keep its value up-to-date.

The American College of Emergency Physicians has a list of things to keep handy in case of emergency. Read more about it in the July issue of

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