As we get older, the need for medicine becomes unforeseeable.  Aside from prescribed medication, the body develops occasional ailments that can be treated using over-the-counter options therefore it’s important to have the necessities available. Every home should have a fully stocked medicine cabinet and first aid kit, preferably more than one.

People naturally go to the medicine cabinet to find relief; however, medicines do not last forever. Unused, expired medication degrades over time, becoming ineffective or possibly dangerous.  Always check medication before taking! Failure to update the products in your cabinet could create an emergency on its own.


General Tips

Altogether, it’s recommended that you check your medical supply cabinet at least once year.  Aside from prescription medicine, the main products that should be included should be products to treat:

  • Minor cuts and burns
  • Headaches
  • Fevers
  • Coughs
  • Itching
  • Allergies

Let’s take a deeper look at your personal needs to help decide what you really need. Depending on your lifestyle, additional items may be needed to keep your cabinet up-to-date and as healthy as it needs to be.


  • Relieve the Pain

Headaches can come from nowhere. Whatever the case, the two must-have drugs to relieve pain are acetaminophen (Tylenol) and any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Aleve). An important thing to remember is that acetaminophen is a pain reliever and fever reducer, not an anti-inflammatory. For certain types of pain (ex. tooth or acute back pain), an NSAID may be more effective. Taking these products daily may cause other issues, such as liver problems, so check with your doctor if necessary.

  • Grab the Ointment

Everyone falls down and scrapes or cuts themselves once in a while. If you have children, you know antibiotic ointment is a must.  For small cuts and scrapes, use Polysporin or Neosporin which can be applied directly to the wound to prevent infection.  These ointments should be used twice a day for a couple days and covered with a bandage.

  • Cover Scrapes and Scratches

Bandages should be a no-brainer to keep stocked in your medicine cabinet.  If possible, purchase bandages of all shapes and sizes as well as a few ACE bandages or wraps.  Try having a bandage for every type and size of cut or scrape. Make sure to wash the wound before applying ointment or bandage. Rubbing alcohol or peroxide can also help sanitize the wound. Braces can also help with minor sprains and can be found in the same section of your local pharmacy.

  • Too Much of a Bad Thing? 

We all like to overindulge, but there are times when eating too much (or certain foods) can severely irritate your stomach. While there are numerous brands out there, Maalox and Mylanta are at the top of the list for quick relief.  In addition, H2 blockers, such as Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet, are also critical drugs to have on hand though some require extended for relief. Think of the Maalox as soothing and coating the stomach and the H2 blockers following their lead and decreasing the effects of acid on the stomach and esophagus over time.

  • Gesundheit!

Allergy medications are most useful during the spring and fall, when allergies are the most prevalent.  Since these drugs are available over the counter, it’s a good idea to take advantage.  Benadryl and Claritin are the most commonly recognized. Benadryl tends to cause drowsiness while Claritin tends to be non-drowsy.

  • Stop the Itching and Get To Sleep

Benadryl is universally recognized and absolutely qualifies as a medicine cabinet must-have! It can treat a wide-variety of maladies, including hives and itching caused by poison ivy, animal allergies, medication, and food allergies. In addition, Benadryl’s main side effect is drowsiness, which can be used to treat occasional insomnia. Benadryl comes in pill form for extended relief; hydrocortisone cream provides instant itch relief.

  • Get Out the Mucus, Cure the Cough

We all get a cough even when we don’t get the flu. Cough medicine in your cabinet can really come in handy when a trip to the doctor isn’t quite called for.  While there are many cough syrups and medicines on pharmacy shelves, it’s important to select one that works as a decongestant as well.  Decongestants can help treat your cough by breaking up mucous buildup in the chest while clearing stuffy nose, ear congestion, and sinus pain. Sore throat spray and cough drops are also helpful additions.

  • Supplementary Medicines

In addition to the drugs discussed above, there are other types of medicines that one should strongly consider adding to their first-aid kit. Immodium (Lopermaide) is the best over-the-counter option for getting rid of diarrhea and Dramamine over-the-counter tablets work well to help prevent motion sickness in case of nausea.  If you need a travel first aid kit, be sure to include a few bottles of water to clean wounds.

  • Stock Up, Be Prepared

As you know, there are many types of over-the-counter medicines that one should have on hand and ready.  There are many pre-made first-aid kits that come in fun and vibrant colors with bandages, cough syrups, tablets and topical creams.  After all, the subject of sickness and medicine are not very cheery topics, so at least the medicines you put in your cabinet can be somewhat uplifting!


Everything You Need

  • Headache, Fever, General Pain: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), including ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Aleve).
  • Minor Cuts and Burns: Polysporin or Neosporin plus bandages of all shapes and sizes as well as ACE bandages and braces.
  • Indigestion and Heartburn: Maalox and Mylanta are for quick relief. H2 blockers, such as Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet, for long-term relief. Imodium helps treat diarrhea.
  • Itching and Allergies (plus sleep): Claritin is non-drowsy while Benadryl may cause drowsiness
  • Coughs: Decongestants plus sore throat spray and cough drops
  • Motion Sickness or Nausea: Dramamine


For additional health information, visit the main Health and Conditions page or learn more about senior care options on the main Assisted Living page.

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About the Author: Victoria K. Stickley is a copywriter, editor, and senior content manager based in the Dallas area. Her graduate education in counseling and research has helped immensely in her writing as well as the care she provides for her grandparents. She currently provides support and resources to senior care websites as she learns and experiences senior care first-hand.