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Stocking up with medicine cabinet essentials means you’ll be ready to get everyone feeling like new again.

Picture this: You’re throwing a backyard birthday party for your youngest. An unexpected scraped knee or cut can put a damper on things. But if you're prepared, the fun doesn't have to stop.

“If you have the right supplies in your medicine cabinet, you can treat everything from headaches to bee stings,” says Courtney Mackrell, CRNP.

Cleaning out your medicine cabinet

Have you looked in your medicine cabinet recently? If you still have cold medicine hanging around past its expiration date, it’s time to restock with year-round essentials.

Start by taking everything out. Set aside anything that’s expired or any unused prescriptions. Then, make a list of what you saved and note the expiration dates.

Tape your list to the inside of the cabinet door so you can reference it at any time. “If you prefer a digital copy, use your phone or digital assistant to keep a list,” says Ms. Mackrell.

When you replace something, scratch out the old expiration date and write in the new one, so you always know when it’s time to replace things.

Medicine cabinet essentials and medications

After you’ve documented your inventory, make a list of items you still need. Over-the-counter medications to keep on hand can include:

  • Pain relievers
  • Eye drops
  • Decongestants
  • Cough drops
  • Antacids
  • Aloe vera
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Personal medications prescribed by your doctor, like an EpiPen

It’s also good to have tools on hand that can help you with everything from removing ticks to patching up cuts and scrapes.

Keep your medicine cabinet stocked with:

  • Assorted bandages including gauze
  • Thermometer
  • Cotton balls and cotton swabs
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Safety pins
  • Scissors

If you have an infant at home, don’t forget to stock your medicine cabinet with baby nail clippers, diaper rash medicine, diaper cream and other baby-safe tools.

“Injuries and illness are hard to predict,” says Ms. Mackrell, “but stocking up on a few things can help keep you prepared for the unexpected.”

How to dispose of expired medicine, safely

The safest way to dispose of medication — expired or no longer needed — is through a medication disposal box, like Geisinger's Medication Take Back Program. All you need to do is find a location with a drop box near you and drop them in.

But we know finding a drop box isn't always possible. To safely dispose of medication at home, scratch your name and address off of the label to protect your personal information. Then, mix the medications with cat litter, dirt or coffee grounds before you throw them away. This makes them undesirable to pets and children and unrecognizable to anyone else.

Remember: Don’t flush medicine down the toilet as it can contaminate local waterways.

Finally, place the mixture in a sealed bag with a little bit of water to make the medication unusable and throw it away.

Storing medicine at home

Now that you’ve stocked up on everything you need in your medicine cabinet, set your household up for success.

“If you have young children, keep medications and tools like scissors out of their reach,” says Ms. Mackrell. You might also consider keeping prescriptions somewhere else so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.

Remember that medicine cabinets are great for treating minor illness and injuries, but major cuts and bruises or allergic reactions may require a call to your doctor or even a trip to the ER or urgent care.

But, with a properly stocked medicine cabinet, you’ll be able to patch up the minor injuries of the day without leaving home.

Next steps:

Meet Courtney Mackrell, CRNP
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