Many of us have out of date – and then ultimately useless or even dangerous – medications piled high in bathroom cabinets, meaning when a health concern arises or a household accident happens, we don’t have the right items to hand to tackle the issue correctly, safely and efficiently; something that’s especially annoying when you or a loved one aren’t well or when time is of the essence.
Tidying and organising are both a distraction many are using during the Covid-19 lockdown and tackling the medicine cabinet and first aid kit so that they offer the best solution possible for handling basic ailments or accidents is a great chore to take on now.
Dr Shikha Pitalia, GP and Director at Pall Mall Medical, has rounded up the ultimate doctor’s advice in how to organise a household’s medicine cabinet and first kit, ensuring families are well prepped for common ailments.
“I know that like all GPs, I’m extremely appreciative of patients self-caring for minor illnesses, injuries and ailments at the present. It has really helped to take some pressure off our frontline staff in GP surgeries and A&E departments.
“When storing any medication at home, remember to follow all directions provided by the manufacturers to the letter, particularly when it comes to dosage. It’s best to keep all medicines out of sight and reach of children, ideally in a high, lockable cupboard that’s somewhere cool and dry. If you can, keep routine prescription medication in a separate location to avoid mishaps.
“Another priority should be checking expiry dates and disposing of anything that’s past it’s use by date, as this medication will either have no effect or could cause more harm than good.
Over the counter medicines
“Top of the list when stocking up for your household should be highly effective painkillers like aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen. These should be everyone’s first port of call for relieving minor aches and pains, such as headaches or discomfort during a period. These medicines are also ideal for helping to alleviate some of the symptoms of ailments like the common cold and reducing the uncomfortable inflammation that often comes with arthritis or sprains.
“As with all medication, do check if it’s suitable for whoever is taking it. For example, aspirin should never be given to children aged under 16 and ibuprofen isn’t suitable for those with asthma or pregnant women. What’s more, under no circumstances should ibuprofen be taken if you are suffering from or suspect or you are suffering from symptoms of Covid-19.
“If you’re ever unsure about who can take what, check with your local pharmacist.
Allergies and insect bites
“Antihistamines are a great medication to keep in stock, especially if you or a family member is allergy prone, a hayfever sufferer or someone who responds especially badly to insect bites. As well as being handy for when the good weather arrives, they’re also great for easing the itchiness associated with ailments like chickenpox.
“Not a glamorous subject – but sadly one that comes to us all! Fever, diarrhoea and vomiting are not only uncomfortable – they’re also incredibly dehydrating and make us lose water and essential minerals. Oral rehydration salts, which you can pick up at pharmacies, are a speedy way to restore your body’s natural balance, although they won’t fight the cause of your illness.
“To battle diarrhoea associated with a virus or bacteria, you’ll need anti-diarrhoea tablets; and as this symptom often happens without warning, having it to hand is especially important!
Remember that this won’t tackle the root of the problem though – and such medications shouldn’t be given to those aged under 12. If in doubt, consult a pharmacist or your doctor.
“Indigestion, be it stomach ache or heartburn, ruins any meal that it accompanies. So, keep antacid as part of your kit too.
A family first aid kit
“A primed and prepped first aid kit can help treat everything from minor cuts to sprains and bruises. We recommend always having the following supplies:
- Bandages; to support minor injuries or for applying pressure to larger cuts before they’re treated professionally – sterile dressings are also great to keep ready for such scenarios
- Plasters; ideally maintain a supply of various sized waterproof plasters
- Pulse oximeters; a handy gadget to keep in your first aid kit. These matchbox-sized devices measure the amount of oxygen being carried around the body and provide an easy to understand reading on how well the heart and lungs are working.
Such devices are especially handy at present, when many of us are anxious about the potential symptoms of Coronavirus.
- A digital thermometer; these provide more accurate readings all round, although an under-arm or ear thermometer may make taking a baby or young child’s temperature easier
- Antiseptic; great for cleaning cuts and treating conditions like insect stings, ulcers and pimples
- Eyewash solution; perfect for washing out grit or dirt in the eyes, especially for little ones
- Medical tape; if you’re feeling especially adept, this is great for sticking dressings on the skin and for taping an injured finger to an uninjured one should a makeshift splint be necessary
- Tweezers; to take out splinters (splinters should always be removed as quickly as possible, as they can easily become infected if left alone)”
“I know that like all GPs, I’m extremely appreciative of patients who are self-caring for minor illnesses, injuries and ailments at the present. It has really helped to take some of the pressure off our frontline staff in GP surgeries and A&E departments.
Lots of us won’t have even thought about having a fully stocked medicine cabinet before the Coronavirus hit, but now’s the perfect time to make sure yours has everything it needs.
“It’s also important to understand when you do need to seek help from a GP or visit A&E. We recommend the below, although cases will naturally vary depending on their severity and individual patient circumstances.”
When to treat at-home vs when to seek medical attention
A&E departments should only be used to assess and treat patients with serious injuries or illnesses; most often, these will be life threatening emergencies, for example,
- Loss of consciousness
- Acute confused state and fits that do not stop
- Persistent and/or severe chest pain
- Difficulties with breathing
- Severe bleeding that will not and cannot be stopped
GPs and walk-in centres should usually be a patients first port of call, although each of these services should currently be contacted via the phone or online in the first instance as face-to-face interactions between medical professionals and patients needs to be reduced to help fight Covid-19. If in doubt, call NHS 111, although wait times for this service may be longer than usual due to the current unprecedented demand. This service is also now provided online here.