1.  Allergy Medication


Whether you have seasonal allergies to pollen or environment allergies to pet dander and dust mites, it’s always a good idea to keep an over-the-counter allergy medication, like an antihistamine, in your medicine cabinet.  Antihistamines can soothe the itchy, watery eyes and sneezing and runny nose of hayfever and can also reduce the itch associated with rashes due to poison ivy, hives, or mosquito bites.  The older antihistamines, like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), are effective but can also make you sleepy.  The newer non-sedating antihistamines, like Claritin (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine), are also available over the counter and won’t make you quite as groggy.


2.     Pain Relievers


You never know when you might develop a headache or twist your ankle, so it’s a good idea to have a couple of pain relievers around.  These medications will also treat fever.  Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol and a good, all-around pain medication.  It is relatively gentle on the stomach but shouldn’t be taken by people with liver problems.  If, however, you injure yourself and need a pain reliever that will also reduce inflammation or swelling, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naprosyn, or aspirin are better choices.  But remember, never give your child aspirin if they have a fever because it can cause a serious brain condition called Reye’s Syndrome.


3.     Cold and Flu Remedies


A word of caution.  You may be tempted to buy a single catch all remedy to take care of all of your cold, allergy, or sinus symptoms.  The problem is that it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re getting in these multi-symptom preparations, so you’re at risk of overdosing on an ingredient if you start mixing medications.  For example, many people don’t know that Nyquil contains acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, so if you take it with Tylenol, you’re getting too much acetaminophen.  That can be very dangerous.  So it’s probably better to stick with products that contain only one ingredient, like plain Tylenol (acetominophen) for a sore throat or headache and plain Sudafed (phenylephrine) for a stuffy nose.


4.     Rubbing Alcohol and Hydrogen Peroxide


Hydrogen peroxide is good for getting dirt out of wounds.  Some dentists recommend it for oral care, and some doctors suggest you mix it with warm water if you have earwax problems.  Rubbing alcohol is good for disinfecting items such as tweezers and nail clippers.  But if you want to clean out a wound and disinfect it, using just soap and water is best.


5.     Cotton Swabs and Cotton Balls


Cotton swabs, like Q-tips, can come in handy for all kinds of things like applying ointment to wounds, but you should never stick a cotton swab into your ear canal.  That can cause wax impaction by pushing the wax deeper into your ear canal.  You can also damage your ear canal or eardrum, and sometimes the cotton tip can fall off and get lodge inside.  Cotton balls are good for cleaning and putting creams on wounds.


6.     Ointments


You should probably keep three types of ointments in your medicine cabinet.  For minor cuts, abrasions, and burns, you may want to apply an antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection.  Hydrocortisone cream is good for rashes and itchy bites.  And calamine lotion can also soothe the itch or pain associated with insect bites or rashes.