Preparing a First Aid Kit for Home or Travel

W. Steven Pray, Ph.D., R.Ph., Professor of Nonprescription Products and Devices, School of Pharmacy, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Weatherford, OK

US Pharmacist. 2001;26(6) 

In This Article

Patient Information

Many homes have a medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Too often, medicines are placed there and forgotten until some crisis occurs. Then, you must frantically search for a suitable, in-date medication. Your medicine cabinet needs careful attention if it is to be useful for your family.

Consider relocating your medicine cabinet contents away from humid locations such as the bathroom. The heat and humidity created by showers, baths and heaters degrade medications rapidly. A cool, dry, dark location such as the top shelf of a closet is a better choice. A locked container out of a child's reach is best.

Examine every OTC product presently in your medicine cabinet or first aid kit. If the expiration date has passed, throw it away. Even prepackaged first aid kits have expiration dates. If an OTC item was marketed before expiration dates were required, it is definitely too old to use. Leftover prescription medications may be ground in a garbage disposal or flushed, but do not throw them away whole since others may recover them from dumpsters.

Consult your pharmacist for help in restocking your medicine cabinet. As a general rule, you should prepare for several problems. Be sure to read the label of each product thoroughly to be sure it is safe for a patient's age and condition.

Keep bandages, adhesive strips, and disinfectants such as alcohol, povidoneiodine, hydrogen peroxide, or an antibiotic ointment containing bacitracin and polymyxin available to prevent infection.

Gastrointestinal problems. Make sure your medicine cabinet contains an antacid for fast relief from stomach upset, an acid-blocker (Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB 200, Zantac 75, Axid HR) for long relief from stomach upset, a bulking product to prevent constipation (those containing psyllium or methylcellulose are good choices), and an antidiarrheal containing loperamide or attapulgite.

Cold symptoms. Pseudoephedrine is a relatively safe oral nasal decongestant that can relieve your congested nose. Oral lozenges containing sore throat anesthetics (e.g., menthol, benzocaine) or sprays containing phenol can help throat discomfort. Cough syrups containing dextromethorphan help a tight, dry cough, and those with guaifenesin help the productive cough associated with bronchial congestion.

Poisoning. If you have young kids, or young children visit your home (e.g., grandchildren), you should consider keeping syrup of ipecac on hand. However, always call the poison control center before using ipecac to make sure it is appropriate for what the child has ingested.

Sunburn, insects Keep an anesthetic spray (e.g., one containing benzocaine) to relieve of sunburn and discomfort due to insect stings and bites, as well as hydrocortisone, to remove the swelling from insect attack and other problems such as poison ivy and skin allergies.

Aches and pains. Be sure you have acetaminophen for pain, and other analgesics such as naproxen, ketoprofen or ibuprofen for pain or pain accompanied by inflammation. These products also help reduce fever.

Reinspect and restock your medicine cabinet/first aid kit at least once a year, as products expire.

Remember, if you have questions, Consult Your Pharmacist.


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