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Stocking up: A few basics are all you need in a medicine cabinet

Paul Graalum, a pharmacist with Dakota Clinic, says for years people were told to have lots of products in their medicine cabinet. Now, shelves should be streamlined. "What I try to tell people is to keep it to a small number," Graalum says.

Paul Graalum, a pharmacist with Dakota Clinic, says for years people were told to have lots of products in their medicine cabinet.

Now, shelves should be streamlined.

"What I try to tell people is to keep it to a small number," Graalum says. "Too many choices can be confusing."

He and other pharmacists offer a short list of suggestions to cover most everyday medical problems:

- Bandages and gauze for cuts and scrapes;


- Triple antibiotic ointment to prevent infection;

- Hydrocortisone cream for insect bites and rashes;

- Nasal decongestant for sinus congestion;

- Antihistamine for allergic reactions, such as to a bee sting;

- Anti-diarrheal for stomach problems;

- And pain reliever for headaches and muscle pain.

"Some people are going to have a lot more products, but try and keep it manageable," Graalum says.

Other options


Graalum suggests people have both ibuprofen and acetaminophen pain relievers. While ibuprofen is better for muscle inflammation, some people can't take it because of allergies or it upsets their stomach.

Other possible items to add to the medicine cabinet include a bottle of hydrogen peroxide for cuts and scrapes, and a bottle of cough syrup, such as Robitussin DM.

But even with cold and flu season approaching, families don't need to stock up on syrups and sprays.

Most people have accrued quite a collection of these, Graalum says, but they shouldn't necessarily use what they have.

Jill Schwandt, pharmacist with Osco Drug in Moorhead, agrees.

"You should treat the symptoms, so as people develop symptoms they should come in and ask what to use," she says.

Schwandt adds that this is especially important for people who take prescription medications to avoid drug interactions.

A person's health history should also be taken into consideration when stocking the shelves. If heartburn is a regular problem, then a bottle of antacids should be included in the inventory. Trouble sleeping when traveling? Buy a sleep aid.


"I think if people need those on an occasional basis, that's fine," Graalum says.

But, he adds, these more personalized medications should be kept away from the family stock, perhaps in a shaving kit or makeup bag.

Graalum says that parents may also want to have a bottle of ipecac on hand. "But it can't be used with all ingestions," he adds.

The government is considering the end of over-the-counter ipecac sales, and Stacey Bangh, clinical coordinator for Hennepin Regional Poison Center, says that it is not frequently recommended. In fact, in certain situations, ipecac should not be consumed.

But, she adds, for people in rural areas, it might be nice to have.

Parents should always call the poison control center -- (800) 222-1222 -- before giving ipecac to a child.

Storing the stash

Contrary to common practice, medicines should not be stored in the bathroom. The humidity from the shower and bath can deteriorate the product, says Craig Johnson, a pharmacist with Medical Pharmacy in Fargo.

Rather, they should be stored in a temperature-controlled area, away from children.

"I usually say in a kitchen cupboard or in a bedroom high up away from kids," Schwandt says. "I wouldn't put it above the stove."

People also should sort through their collection regularly.

A survey for www.mymedcab.com found that 54 percent of Americans check their medicine cabinets only every few months or longer.

"When I go home, I always clean out my parents' (cabinet)," Schwandt says.

Even fewer people check other places where medicines are stored, including purses, workplace desk drawers and travel bags.

While medicines typically don't become poisonous or harmful after their expiration date, their potency decreases.

"It may do a person more harm to take an outdated product because they're delaying treatment," Johnson says.

The expiration date is found on the crimped end of tubes. It's usually found on the box and the bottle of pills.

"If people can't find the expiration date or read it, or you can't remember when you got it, it's probably best to get rid of it," Graalum says.

Most medicines have a shelf life of two to three years. Old medications should be thrown in the trash or flushed down the toilet.

Prescription medications don't normally have an expiration date printed on them, but they should be thrown out even sooner than over-the-counter drugs.

"If you haven't used the prescription medication in a year, it's best to get rid of it," Johnson says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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