A well-stocked medicine cabinet is essential for dealing with minor health problems and illnesses. There are certain items experts suggest you keep on hand so you don’t have to run out to the store for relief while you’re sick.

“Medications have a tendency to be expired just when you need them. ... Try to get in the habit of checking your medication expiration dates twice a year, when you change your smoke alarm battery,” said Dr. Leann Poston, medical communications writer and educator with Invigor Medical.

Similar to food, medications degrade over time, lose their potency and need to be thrown out, said infectious-disease specialist Dr. Ceppie Merry of Healthy But Smart.

“When it comes to expired meds, there are some medications that can have serious side effects after the expiration date, so it is best to always adhere to expiration dates,” said pharmacist Yelena Yoffe, owner of Tisane Pharmacy in New York City.

How a person stocks their medicine chest will depend on the ages of the people living in the home, Poston said.

The basics

Two basics that should always be in your cupboard are fever reducers and pain killers, said Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, a prescribing doctor with PrescriptionDoctor.com. Over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) help relieve aches and pains and lower a spiking temperature.

“These simple drugs can help with small headaches, which are likely to become more common with people spending more time in front of screens especially now that winter is hitting and less walking is likely to be done. On top of this, I would also recommend a good cough medicine to help with any flu-like symptoms,” Aragona said.

In addition to keeping a 30-day supply of any current medications, be sure to stock antihistamine for seasonal allergy relief.

Because fever is a common symptom of both COVID-19 and the flu a working thermometer is a must for your medicine cabinet, Yoffe said. A variety of choices are available including classic under-the-tongue thermometers, digital varieties designed for the ear and mouth, as well as non-contact thermometers.

An additional tool to think about adding is a pulse oximeter, which is used to check blood oxygen levels, Yoffe said. These handy little electronic devices are slipped on the finger to measure oxygen saturation levels and are especially useful for people who have chronic respiratory or heart disease.

Include items to treat basic skin wounds and rashes such as a reusable cold pack, bandages, an elastic bandage wrap (such as ACE brand), anti-itch cream, tissues and nail clippers, Poston said.

“It’s always a good idea to have a packet of Airborne with you in the instances when you do need to travel,” said Brittany Ferri, occupational therapist and founder of Simplicity of Health. “This can easily be mixed with water to drink prior to going somewhere near others. By no means should this substitute wearing a mask and other safety precautions, but it can come in handy for a quick immune system boost. Similarly, zinc and vitamins B and D supplements are good additions to your daily health regimen especially during the fall and winter seasons.”

For digestive problems consider stocking antacids and something to treat diarrhea such as bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) or loperamide (Imodium).


To organize your medicine cabinet, follow these tips from registered nurse and patient advocate Teri Dreher:

  • Store all supplies together in an easy-to-access place so you can respond quickly to minor household cuts and scrapes.
  • Keep toiletries and medications separate so it’s easier to find what you need quickly.
  • Be sure new over-the-counter medications are clearly marked with an expiration date. If you can’t see it, mark the purchase date on the box.

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