Medicine Cabinet 101

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Posted on

To avoid the 1 AM trip to the pharmacy you need to be well stocked at home. Headaches, pain, hives, fever, or an itchy rash may be easily remedied with over-the-counter meds. Here are ten things you and your family will face, so be ready:

1. Aches and pains: Toothache, pain from ankle sprain, tension headache

What works? The over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) include ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin and Aleve. Aleve is available in prescription strength as naproxen.

How can they help? Most aches and pains are best treated with NSAIDS. Acute pain (sprained ankle, tooth ache, headache, ear ache, or knee pain) is best relieved by a pain reliever/anti-inflammatory drug which should be your first choice.

2. Fever

What works? Two medications work well as fever reducers. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) 500 mg tablets and any NSAID like ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, or Aleve.

How can they help? To lower your temperature you can alternate Tylenol with an NSAID every 4-6 hours because they are two different medications that can work together for your benefit.

3. Cuts and scrapes

What works? Antibiotic ointments work well for cuts and scrapes. Polysporin or Neosporin (both similar topical anti-bacterials) are good to have available. If you can get your hands on prescription Bactroban ointment that’s even better.

How can they help? I’m not a huge fan of cleaning simple wounds with alcohol or hydrogen peroxide because I think you can just wash it with warm water and soap and apply one of the above topical ointments twice a day for a couple of days with a loose band aid.

4. Heartburn or reflux symptoms

What works? Maalox and Mylanta are good for quick relief. The H2 blockers like Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet are also must-haves as you can take those along with Mylanta or Maalox. The other over the counter heartburn option is the proton pump inhibitor (PPI) omeprazole which is Prilosec OTC .

How can they help? Think of the Maalox as soothing and coating the stomach and the H2 blockers and PPIs following their lead and decreasing the effects of acid on the stomach and esophagus. Prilosec OTC will help, but not immediately.

5. Allergy symptoms: Runny nose and watery eyes

What works? The non-sedating antihistamines are: Claritin (loratadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine) which come with or without the Sudafed (pseudoephedrine, the “D” part tagged on to the end of the name).

How can they help? Loratadine and Cetirizine will help control your allergy symptoms like runny nose, red watery eyes, and itchy throat. They should not make you tired and can work for most allergy symptoms.

6. Hives or severe allergic reaction

What works? Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Period. Everyone should have Benadryl 25 mg tablets in their medicine cabinet.

How can it help? Benadryl will work for hives and itching from pretty much anything (poison ivy, animal allergies, medication allergies, food allergies). Benadryl’s main side effect is making you very sleepy, and it will.

7. Cough and cold

What works? Let’s face it, the over-the-counter cough medicines don’t work well at all. What will help some of the cold symptoms (stuffy nose, ear congestion, and sinus pain) is a decongestant like Sudafed. Mucinex helps for cough too and if you can get your hands on a prescription dose of Tessalon (benzonatate) capsules, keep them.

How can it help? For a PRODUCTIVE cough where you are bringing up junk an expectorant like Mucinex (guaifenesin) can work well to help you bring up more of that junk from your tight chest.

8. Itchy skin rash

What works? Hydrocortisone cream. A 1% topical hydrocortisone cream is essential for relieving itching and inflammation from many skin lesions. You will see many variations of this cream at a pharmacy with different names, with or without aloe, etc. You just need the 1% hydrocortisone cream.

How can it help? Use it to help you with any skin issue that ITCHES: bug bites, poison ivy or any contact dermatitis (an allergic skin reaction from something that touched you).

9. Diarrhea

What works? Imodium (loperamide) is your best over-the-counter option. Period.

How can it help? Use Immodium to control your diarrhea to less than 3 episodes in 24 hours to avoid dehydration.

10. Nausea

What works? There are many anti-emetics that require a prescription but Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) over-the-counter tablets will work well.

How can it help? Dramamine (also Bonine) can relieve nausea but will make you sleepy. As you know, you can also use them for prevention of motion sickness so they are good to have on hand.

Special needs:

Men: The MUST HAVE for those of you who are sexually active is CONDOMS. For sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy prevention these are your BEST option. Have them on hand.

Women: For yeast infections have an antifungal cream like Monistat (miconazole) on hand. For a urinary tract infection while you wait to see your doctor Pyridium (Azo over the counter) will help relieve the burning with urination.

Dr O.

Put drug prices & coupons in your pocket!
We'll text you a link to download our free Android or iPhone app
Get GoodRx Mobile App

Drugs featured in this story

Filed under