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Your medicine cabinet - Healthy body

Be prepared for common health problems by keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet at home.

This list, recommended by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, will help you deal with most minor health problems and illnesses.

Pain relief

Painkillers like paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin, are highly effective at relieving most minor aches and pains, such as headaches and period pain.

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

Paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin also help reduce the inflammation caused by arthritis and sprains.

Bear in mind:

  • aspirin must not be given to children under 16
  • ibuprofen must be taken with caution if you have certain conditions, such as asthma – check with your pharmacist if in doubt
  • pregnant women should not take ibuprofen – visit the Bumps website to find out more about taking medicines when you're pregnant

Antihistamines

Antihistamines 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 a pharmacist about this as there are some antihistamines that do not cause drowsiness.

Oral rehydration salts

A high temperature, diarrhoea and being sick make you lose water and essential minerals, and can lead to dehydration.

Oral rehydration salts, available at pharmacies, are an easy way to help restore your body's natural balance of fluid and minerals, and help your recovery.

But they do not fight the cause of your illness, such as a virus or bacteria.

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-diarrhoea remedies can quickly control diarrhoea, but they do not deal with the underlying cause.

The most common anti-diarrhoea medicine is loperamide, sold under the names Imodium, Arret and Diasorb, among others. It works by slowing down the action of your digestive system.

Do not give anti-diarrhoea medicines to children under 12 as they may have undesirable side effects. Speak to a GP or pharmacist for advice about a child with these symptoms.

Indigestion treatment

If you have stomach ache or heartburn, medicine called 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 30. 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 also protect yourself against the sun 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

A well-prepared first aid kit 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; an under-arm thermometer or an ear thermometer are good ways to read a baby or young child's temperature
  • antiseptic – this can be used to clean cuts before they're bandaged, and most can treat a range of conditions, including insect stings 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 healthcare professional
  • medical tape – this is used to stick dressings on the skin 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

Medicine safety

When keeping medicines at home, remember:

  • always follow the directions on medicine packets and information leaflets, and never take more than the stated dose
  • always keep medicines out of sight and reach of children – a high, lockable cupboard in a cool, dry place is ideal
  • check the expiry dates on medicines – do not use a medicine that's past its use-by date; take it to a pharmacy, where it can be disposed of safely

A pharmacist can answer any questions you have about medicines.

How a pharmacist can help you

Remember that a pharmacist can also help with many health conditions, 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 a GP, you can see a pharmacist any time – just walk in.

Learn more about how a pharmacist can help with treating common conditions.

Find your local pharmacy.

Page last reviewed: 14 April 2020
Next review due: 14 April 2023