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10 Medicine Cabinet Must-Haves

Prepare for life’s eventualities by stocking up on these everyday essentials
10 Medicine Cabinet Must-Haves: Main Image
It’s also handy to keep a first-aid kit in your car and your day-trip backpack

Health mishaps happen. Whether it’s a twisted ankle on the stairs or something as serious as chest pains, having the appropriate medical supplies on hand help you stay prepared. “People either do not have any first-aid items or the ones they do have are insufficient or expired,” says Manoj Singh, MD, assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio.

Here are ten must-haves for every home medicine chest:

Plain soap

Good ol’ soap and water is still the best way to clean minor cuts and scrapes. It works just as well as antibacterial soap—and it’s less expensive!

A compression wrap

If you twist your ankle or wrist, remember the RICE treatment: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Elastic wraps, such as those made by ACE, are the compression component of the RICE equation. “These are excellent for giving support to a sprained joint,” says Jennifer Zimmer, MD, an internal medicine doctor at the Dallas Diagnostic Association and the Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas.

Aspirin

Not only for headaches and hangovers, but if you're at risk for something far more serious: “If you have chest pain, chew up 325 mg of uncoated aspirin,” advises Singh. “Heart attacks can happen any time and taking aspirin as soon as possible can help reduce the damage.” Aspirin can help break down the blood clot in your artery and limit the injury to your heart. Keep in mind, however, that there are many different types of chest pain and that aspirin is not the right treatment for many of them. Rare use is relatively safe but repeated aspirin use can cause harm. Talk to you doctor to learn about your heart-disease risk and what to do in an emergency.

Bandages (assorted sizes)

Not just for kids! You need these, as well, to keep your boo-boos and owies from becoming infected.

A thermometer

Experts recommend a digital thermometer over the mercury type (which are just as accurate but difficult to read). “A good thermometer can monitor for temperature elevation that could indicate infection in a wound or worsening of an illness,” says Zimmer.

Mild pain relievers

Stock acetaminophen or ibuprofen for minor pain and fever. “Remember to check doses, though, as children take a dose based on their weight,” advises Singh.

Antibacterial ointment

Apply after cleaning a wound to help reduce infection risk and increase healing time. See Wound Healing, for more helpful products.

An antihistamine

Use to relieve minor allergy symptoms like sneezing, itching and swelling. Call 911 if you have a severe allergic reaction—such as difficulty breathing, or swelling of the tongue or lip—as an antihistamine won’t help.

Hydrocortisone cream

This is useful for taking itch out of rashes and insect bites.

Phone numbers

Inside the door of your medicine cabinet, adhere contact info for your family members, doctors, pharmacy, and your local poison control center. If there is an emergency, this cost-you-nothing strategy can prove to be priceless.

Remember to check the contents of your kit every 6 to 12 months to ensure that medicines haven’t expired, and that your contact numbers are still up-to-date.

Finally, it's also handy to keep a first-aid kit in your car and your day-trip backpack. And think about other places a kit could be useful. Going on vacation? Remember to take one with you to the cabin, boat, or wherever else your road leads. Go well!

Nancy Gottesman, a health and nutrition writer in Santa Monica, CA, is stocking her first-aid kit now.

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