How to spring clean your medicine cabinet

When you’re doing the annual sort-out, take time to check what’s in your medicine cabinet – and stock up so you can look after yourself this year.

If you’re one of those people who goes down with a cold then realises all the medicines in your cupboard expired yonks ago, it could be time to spring clean your medicine cabinet.

[Read more: 7 things you should always have in your medicine cabinet]

From coughs and colds to hayfever and headaches, it’s likely you and your family will have a self-treatable condition at some point over the year. These conditions are mostly short-term and can usually be managed quickly and effectively at home by using appropriate over-the-counter (OTC) medicines.

Follow our guide, to make sure you’re prepared to treat symptoms at the first sign…

Check the expiry dates

“Many people have kept the same medicines in their cupboard for years and don’t consider the fact they could be out of date or have been stored incorrectly, until they feel unwell and look in their medicine cabinet to see what they can find,” says John Smith, chief executive of the PAGB (Proprietary Association of Great Britain), which represents manufacturers of branded over-the-counter medicines, self care medical devices and food supplements.

“Medicines should be stored as per the instructions on the pack, usually in a cool, dry place and if there are young children in the house, they should be kept up high and out of easy reach. It’s also important to check the expiry dates of medicines as each product will be able to be stored for a specific amount of time once opened.

Dispose of medicines safely

“If you need to dispose of any medicines, opened or not, then they should always be returned to a pharmacy for safe disposal and they should never be recycled or used by anyone else. It’s important to never dispose of your unwanted medicines down the sink or toilet and always ask a pharmacist if you are unsure,” adds John. 

“By being prepared and storing the appropriate medicines correctly and safely, people will be able to manage self treatable conditions much more effectively and efficiently.”

[Read more: 9 store cupboard essentials you might need to throw out] 

Stock up your medicine cabinet

Pharmacist Steve Riley suggests the OTC medicines you should consider having to hand:

1. Painkillers - paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen are highly effective at relieving most minor aches and pains, such as headaches and period pain and they can also help to reduce pain associated with inflammation. Aspirin and Ibuprofen can also have an inflammatory action.

2. Antihistamines – these can come in tablets or capsules, oral liquids, creams and nasal sprays and are used to treat and soothe allergic health conditions such as hayfever, skin allergies and insect bites and stings. Some antihistamines may cause drowsiness so if you are unsure then ask your pharmacist for advice.

3. Rehydration salts – help to replace the body’s natural minerals and salts which may be lost through acute diarrhoea or vomiting and help to prevent the individual from becoming dehydrated. Ask your pharmacist for advice about the most suitable rehydration sachets for infants and children.

4. Anti-diarrhoea tablets – these can help to ease the unpleasant symptoms of diarrhoea and shorten how long it lasts. Diarrhoea can affect people occasionally and can happen without warning as a result of food poisoning, a virus, poor hygiene and even anxiety.

5. Indigestion treatment – antacids, alginates or PPIs can help to ease the pain and discomfort of short-term and infrequent indigestion, heartburn or trapped wind by neutralising the acid in your stomach. Ask your pharmacist for advice if you develop regular, re-current or persistent symptoms.

6. Children’s medicine - if you have young children in the family then the appropriate strength paracetamol and ibuprofen can help for pain and fever. They are available as oral liquids, sachets and tablets which melt in the mouth. It’s important that they get the correct dosage for their age following instructions on the package. If your child reacts to any medicine – for example with a rash or diarrhoea – then seek advice from a healthcare professional.

7. First aid kit - bandages, plasters, antiseptic wipes and medical tape are good to keep in the medicine cupboard to treat any minor cuts and scrapes and to prevent them from becoming infected.  It’s sensible to have a thermometer handy, especially if you have young children, and sterile tweezers are ideal for removing splinters

[Read more: The 8 things you should have in your first aid kid]

Steve says: “The suggested OTC medicines are ideal to treat and manage the symptoms associated with short-term, minor conditions. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your local community pharmacist for advice. They will review your symptoms; advise you if you need any medication to treat a condition, or if a trip to the GP, walk in centre or even A&E is required. They will also advise you if you don’t require any medication at all.”

When to see the doctor

Steve says you should always get checked if you have any of the following symptoms:

- Breathlessness and difficulty in swallowing
- Severe pain
- Passing blood in urine or stools
- Vomiting or coughing up blood
- Eyesight disturbances
- Persistent headaches
- Chest pain
- Persistent or regular heartburn and indigestion

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