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Managing Diabetes Magazine - diabetes

Your Medicine Cupboard
Planning ahead is critical to managing illness

Your medicine cupboard may be the first place you go when you are not feeling well. It may contain supplies for first aid, pain or cold relief. Although organizing a medicine cupboard may take a little time, it is convenient to have supplies in one place when you are sick or hurt.

Tips for getting organized

  • Medicines keep better in a dry, cool place. Do not store medicine in the bathroom, where temperature changes and humidity may affect them.
  • Keep medications in their original containers so you know what the drug is and how it is to be taken.
  • Go through your medicine cupboard and check for medications past their expiry date. Replace those that are too old. Remove medication you no longer use.
  • Check whether the medicine has changed in appearance, texture, consistency, color, or smell. If there has been a change, it should be replaced even if it has not expired.
  • If you have medications that are no longer useful, take them to your pharmacy for proper disposal. Medicine should not be thrown in the garbage or flushed down the toilet.
  • All medicines should be stored out of sight and reach if you have children, or if children come to your home.


Over-the-counter items allow you to self-medicate mild health issues for a short period of time. Consider having these in your medicine cupboard:

  • antihistamine for allergy relief
  • calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream (0.5%) to relieve itching
  • sunscreen
  • sunburn remedy
  • medicine for diarrhea, and antacids (check with your doctor or pharmacist)
  • medicine to relieve pain or fever like acetaminophen, or to soothe inflammation like ibuprofen or ASA. Avoid taking high doses of ASA. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about whether these products are suitable for you to take based on your health condition.

Treating colds or flu

For coughs and colds, choose a product that will treat your current symptoms. Avoid products containing many ingredients to treat many symptoms. Always read the label to find out what symptom the product treats. Check the safety information for side effects, problems mixing with other drugs you may be taking, or health problems that are a concern with this drug. Avoid cough and cold medicines that contain alcohol. Do not use medicines that contain sugar, such as sucrose, maltose, dextrose or fructose. With sugar-free products, you do not need to account for their carbohydrate value. Sugar-free products containing sorbitol can cause diarrhea.

Decongestants can relieve your stuffy nose, but those taken by mouth can increase your blood glucose levels. Nasal decongestant sprays or drops should be used no longer than three days. After that, they tend to make nasal stuffiness worse instead of helping. Alternative treatments include drinking plenty of water, keeping the room humidified, and using a saline nasal spray. These strategies may relieve congestion without affecting blood glucose levels, and can be used for an unlimited time.

To ease a sore throat, try sugarless throat lozenges or gargling with warm salt water.

If you have a cough with no mucus, a cough suppressant like dextromethorphan may help. An expectorant like guaifenesin should help loosen a cough with mucus. Again, choose a product without alcohol or sugar.

First aid

Keep the following first aid items in a first aid kit or in your medicine cupboard:

  • first aid manual
  • gauze roll and individually packaged gauze pads
  • tape to hold gauze in place (use non-allergenic tape to avoid an allergic skin reaction)
  • various sizes of adhesive bandages
  • sterile cotton balls and swabs
  • tweezers
  • sterile eyewash and eye wash cup
  • eyedropper
  • antiseptic cream or ointment to prevent infection (use only with your doctor’s approval)
  • cold/hot, regular or instantly activated packs (use these with caution – ask your pharmacist)
  • elastic bandage to wrap a sprained joint
  • safety pins
  • blunt tipped scissors
  • latex gloves
  • thermometer
  • card with the phone number of your doctor, poison control centre, and local emergency numbers.

Poison centres suggest that having syrup of ipecac and activated charcoal on hand is not necessary, as these are no longer recommended for treating home poisoning.

Diabetes supplies

Supplies to store in your medicine cupboard (if they are not already with your diabetes supplies) are:

  • products to treat hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) – glucose tablets like Dex4® or a Glucagon Emergency Kit™.
  • reactive strips to test urine for ketones if glucose levels are high, or a meter to measure blood ketones. (Check with your doctor or certified diabetes educator.)

Treatment Tips

Wound care

The best way to clean a simple wound is to wash the cut with soap and water, or flush it gently with normal saline or tap water. The pressure when flushing to cleanse a wound should be no stronger than what you would use to rinse your eyes. This prevents damaging new skin cells that are trying to close the wound. Hydrogen peroxide and other antiseptic solutions can slow healing time and are not recommended.
People with diabetes need to be careful in caring for a wound or ulcer, as small wounds can soon become large. Good blood glucose control will assist with wound healing. If healing is delayed or the wound changes, contact your doctor.

Foot care

Take good care of your feet to avoid problems. Protect your feet from injury by wearing shoes that fit well. Every day, check inside your shoes for foreign objects or tears. Do not go barefoot. Wear clean socks every day, and align your socks and any seams carefully over your foot.

Get into a routine of checking your feet each day. Inspect and feel the top and bottom of your feet and in between your toes. You are looking for anything that is different or injured. Check for blisters, cuts, redness, hard skin, scratches, breaks in the skin, and hot or cold spots. Pay close attention to any blister or cut. Contact your doctor if there is redness, pain or swelling, or an area that is not healing properly. Wearing shoes that fit properly and using foot powder to dry feet may make your feet less prone to blisters. If a blister does form, use moleskin or cushioning donuts to keep the pressure off until it heals.

Once a day, wash your feet in tepid water, avoiding extreme water temperatures. Dry carefully, especially between your toes. Look at and treat any dryness with moisture restoring cream or lotion. Avoid getting lotion between your toes, as this may make skin tear and put you at risk for an infection. The area between the toes is a haven for infections like athlete's foot.

Skin care

Bathe or shower in warm water, as hot water removes moisture from your skin. Gently pat your skin dry right away instead of letting the water evaporate and dry out your skin. You can use gentle cleansers, and mild or moisturizing soaps.

Moisturizers reduce dryness and irritation, and will make the skin surface appear smoother and softer. A good time to use moisturizers is after a bath or shower, when the skin is slightly damp.

Illness or injury

Blood glucose levels can rise during an illness. You may not be eating regularly if you are not feeling well. During a stressful time of being ill or injured, follow these important guidelines.

  • Continue taking oral diabetes medications or insulins. Insulin needs can increase during an illness. Based on your blood glucose readings, you may need to adjust your insulin dosage.
  • Check your blood glucose levels at least four times a day or every two hours if they are high.
  • If blood glucose is higher than 14mmol/L, check for ketones in your urine or blood.
  • Drink water to avoid dehydration.
  • Consume the recommended amount of carbohydrates in easily digested foods.

Plan ahead, discuss strategies with your doctor or certified diabetes educator, and use the sick day plan that you have developed.

Foot care

Some foot care products can be dangerous for people with diabetes. If you develop corns, calluses, or warts, do not treat them yourself at home. Cutting corns or calluses can lead to foot injuries. Do not use over-the-counter chemicals to remove these foot problems. Check with your doctor or a podiatrist to have them assessed and treated.

Skin care

People with diabetes can experience dry or itchy skin. Many products are available to treat it. When choosing a moisturizer, look past the fancy packaging of the product and read the ingredient label. Moisturizers with fragrance can increase the chance of skin irritation. Avoid products that list alcohol as one of the first few ingredients.

To reduce evaporation of moisture from the outer layer of skin, moisturizers contain ingredients called occlusive agents. They give skin a soft, smooth look and feel. Occlusive agents include yellow and white petrolatum, lanolin, Eucerin®, wheat germ oil, olive oil, cocoa butter, simethicone, and dimethicone, to name a few. The occlusive agents usually are listed at the beginning of the ingredient label.

Other ingredients called humectants can be added to the softening and soothing or moisturizing base. These agents draw water to the top layer of the skin to hydrate it. Glycerin, propylene glycol, urea, butylene glycol, lactic acid, and lecithin are all examples. Other ingredients may be added, but may not increase moisture on your skin. Additional ingredients might include collagen, elastin, amino acids, proteins, aloe vera, allantoin, and liposomes.

Moisturizers come in a wide selection of lotions, creams and ointments. Many are either oil in water or water in oil preparations. The oil in water mixture can produce a cooling effect to relieve itching. The water in oil combination has a higher oil content, so that evaporation dries the skin less. However, these products may feel greasy.

Vitamin and mineral supplements

Eating a well-balanced diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables should provide the vitamins and minerals you need. If you have diabetes, are your vitamin and mineral supplement needs different from someone without diabetes? People with poor glucose control may pass urine often. This can lead to a loss of water-soluble nutrients, and may warrant the use of a vitamin and mineral supplement.

If you choose to take a supplement, remember to keeping eating healthy foods. It is safe to take a daily multiple vitamin and mineral supplements that contains no more than 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowances. With vitamins and minerals, more is not necessarily better. Check with your pharmacist or doctor if you are considering taking supplement doses that exceed the recommended daily allowance.

Vitamins should be protected from excessive heat, light and moisture. House brand names are usually as good as advertised brand names, and often less expensive. Some synthetic vitamins, which are less costly, are thought to be as good as those from natural sources. Check with your pharmacist about which product would be best for you.

Herbal products

The number of herbal products on the market is growing. You may wonder if these products are safe and effective. ‘Natural’ is not the same as ‘safe,’ and there are concerns with a few. Herbal products can cause side effects, react with medication you take, or cause a problem with diseases including diabetes.

Consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking a vitamin and mineral supplement or herbal product. If you are taking one already, let your doctor and pharmacist know. It is very important to continue taking prescription medications as advised. Before making any changes or additions, check with your pharmacist or doctor.

Many products are available for home health care in the over-the-counter section of your pharmacy. When choosing a product, read the label carefully. No drug is completely free of side effects. Some over-the-counter drugs can cause negative effects, and some should be avoided or used with caution in certain illnesses. As well, there can be a risk of an interaction between over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

Ask your pharmacist to recommend the most suitable product for you. Your pharmacist can do a personalized medication assessment to check if an over-the-counter product will react with any over-the-counter or prescription medications you are taking. This will confirm that the medication is safe for your diabetes, or for any other medical condition you may have. Alternatives that do not use medication may also be suggested. Having all your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy is a good idea, as it gives your pharmacist all the information necessary to advise you.

FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of:
College of Family Physicans of Canada
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of:
College of Family Physicans of Canada
Alberta College of Family Physicians
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2019, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1    [DI_MDab14]
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