Your medicine cabinet

Even a minor illness and ailments such as colds, headaches and diarrhoea can disrupt your life. Be prepared for most common ailments by keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet at home.

Sunita Behl of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society explains the essential medicines your cabinet should contain. This list doesn't cover everything, but it will help you deal with most minor ailments.

Always follow the directions on medicine packets and information leaflets, and never take more than the stated dose.

If you have questions about any of these medicines or you want to buy them, ask your local pharmacist.

Always keep medicines out of the sight and reach of children. A high, lockable cupboard in a cool, dry place is ideal.

Regularly check the expiry dates on a medicine. If a medicine is past its use-by date, don't use it or throw it away. Take it to your pharmacy, where it can be disposed of safely.

Pain relief

Painkillers such as aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen are highly effective at relieving most minor aches and pains, such as headaches and menstrual pain. Aspirin must not be given to children under 16. 

These medicines also help with some minor ailments, such as the common cold, by reducing aches, pain and high temperatures.

These three medicines also help reduce the inflammation seen in arthritis and sprains.

Antihistamines

These are useful for dealing with allergies and insect bites. They're also helpful if you have hay fever.

Antihistamines can come in the form of creams you apply to the skin (topical antihistamine) or tablets you swallow (oral antihistamine).

Antihistamine creams soothe insect stings and bites, and rashes and itching from stinging nettles.

Antihistamine tablets help control hay fever symptoms and calm minor allergic reactions to food. They can also help calm itchiness during chickenpox

Some antihistamines may cause drowsiness. Ask your pharmacist about this as there are some antihistamines that don't cause drowsiness.

Oral rehydration salts

Fever, diarrhoea and vomiting make us lose water and essential minerals, and can lead to dehydration.

If you have these symptoms and can't continue your normal diet, oral rehydration salts can help restore your body's natural balance of minerals and fluid, and relieve discomfort and tiredness. But they don't fight the underlying cause of your illness, such as a virus or bacteria.

Rehydration salts, available at your local pharmacy, are an easy way to take in minerals and fluid, and help your recovery.

Anti-diarrhoea tablets

Diarrhoea is caused by a range of things, such as food poisoning or a stomach virus, and can happen without warning. It's a good idea to keep an anti-diarrhoea medicine at home.

Anti-diarrhoeal remedies can quickly control the unpleasant symptoms of diarrhoea, although they don't deal with the underlying cause.

The most common anti-diarrhoeal is loperamide (sold under the names Imodium, Arret and Diasorb, among others). It works by slowing down the action of your gut.

Don't give anti-diarrhoeals to children under 12 because they may have undesirable side effects. Speak to your GP or pharmacist for advice about a child with these symptoms.

Indigestion treatment

If you have stomach acheheartburn or trapped wind, a simple antacid will reduce stomach acidity and bring relief.

Antacids come as chewable tablets, tablets that dissolve in water, or in liquid form.

Sunscreen

Keep a sun lotion of at least factor 15. Even fairly brief exposure to the sun can cause sunburn and increase your risk of skin cancer. Ensure your suncreen provides UVA protection.

You can protect yourself against the sun further by wearing a hat and sunglasses, and by avoiding the sun during the hottest part of the day, between 11am and 3pm.

Your first aid kit

As well as the medicines discussed above, keep a well-prepared first aid kit. This can help treat minor cuts, sprains and bruises, and reduce the risk of cuts becoming infected. It should contain the following items:

  • bandages – these can support injured limbs, such as a sprained wrist, and also apply direct pressure to larger cuts before being treated in hospital
  • plasters – a range of sizes, waterproof if possible
  • thermometer – digital thermometers that you put in your mouth produce very accurate readings; a thermometer placed under the arm is a good way to read a baby or young child's temperature
  • antiseptic – this can be used to clean cuts before they're dressed (bandaged) and most can treat a range of conditions, including insect stings, ulcers and pimples; alcohol-free antiseptic wipes are useful to clean cuts
  • eyewash solution – this will help wash out grit or dirt in the eyes
  • sterile dressings – larger injuries should be covered with a sterile dressing to prevent infection until treatment can be given by a health professional
  • medical tape – this is used to secure dressings and can also be used to tape an injured finger to an uninjured one, creating a makeshift splint
  • tweezers – for taking out splinters; if splinters are left in, they can cause discomfort and become infected

How your pharmacist can help

Don't forget your local pharmacist can help with many ailments, such as coughs, coldsasthma, eczemahay fever and period pain. They can give advice or, where appropriate, medicines that can help clear up the problem.

Instead of booking an appointment with your GP, you can see your local pharmacist any time  just walk in. Learn more about how your pharmacist can help with treating common conditions.

Page last reviewed: 14/07/2014

Next review due: 14/07/2016

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

SpangleStar said on 28 November 2010

I throw away a lot of medicine simply because the expiry date has been passed. This is expensive and stops me keeping my medcine cabinet topped up with the recommendations here. This means I have to rely on my community pharmacy selling products with long expiry dates. They often sell products just within expiry dates. There seems no regulation on how close to the expiry date the products can be sold. I woudl suggest patients buying over the counter drugs and medicines ask for expiry dates before buying.

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