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Straight, No Chaser: What Should Be in Your Medicine Cabinet

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD November 14, 2018

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You’ve all done it. I’ve caught a few of you doing it. Why do you rummage through someone’s else’s medicine cabinet? Are newer homes even built with medicine cabinets anymore? Oh well… Today, I’m tackling a simple but important question in an ongoing effort to better empower you.
1. What should be in my medicine cabinet? Here’s my top five and why.

  • Aspirin (324 mg). On the day you’re having a heart attack, you’ll want this available to pop in your mouth on the way to the hospital. Of all the intervention done in treating heart attacks, none is better than simply taking an aspirin. It offers a 23% reduction in mortality due to a heart attack by itself.
  • Activated charcoal. This one may surprise you. Talk to your physician or pharmacist about this. If someone in your family ever overdoses on a medicine, odds are this is the first medication you’d be given in the emergency room. The sooner it’s onboard, the sooner it can begin detoxifying whatever you took. That said, there are some medications and circumstances when you shouldn’t take it, so get familiar with it by talking with your physician.
  • Antiseptics such as triple antibiotic ointment for cuts, scratches and minor burns. It should be embarrassing for you to spend $1000 going to an emergency room when you could have addressed the problem at home. I guess I should include bandages here as well.
  • A variety pack for colds, including antihistamines (like diphenhydramine, aka benadryl) and cough preparations. As a general rule, give yourself 3-5 days of using OTC preparations for a cold to see if it works or goes away. If not, then it’s certainly appropriate to get additional medical care. I guess I can lump a thermometer in this bullet point.
  • The fifth item would be this number: 800-222-1222, which is number to the national poison control center. They will address your concerns, route you to your local poison center and help coordinate your care when you go to your emergency department.

0 thoughts on “Straight, No Chaser: What Should Be in Your Medicine Cabinet

  1. Thank you very much for this information Dr. Sterling. I have all of these things in my medicine cabinet except activated charcoal. I never would have imagined that I needed it. Does the charcoal come in pill or powder form, and how do you know how much to administer in an emergency?

    1. Hi, Stephanie. Activated charcoal for home use will become more common in the upcoming future. It’s a slurry made in a pre-sized portion. An important consideration is that no time should be wasted with this. Either chug and go, or just get to the emergency room. Thanks for your question, and thanks for following Straight, No Chaser.

  2. ” I’ve caught a few of you doing it. ” LMAO @ how they must have reacted when getting caught. What did they say? That is just so weird. Why would you go through someone else’s belongings? After that encounter, I’d never see that person (the nosy person) the same again and would probably end the “friendship.” I found this post after getting a headache and realizing again that I buy pain medicine, but never have it around when I get a headache bc I end up throwing it away (don’t ask why). I said that I should keep some in a safe place, like a medicine cabinet, then realized that I don’t have one and Googled to see if newer homes are made with medicine cabinets.

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