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Changing Role of the Pharmacist
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Medication Questions?
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Bacteria Fight Back
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H1N1 Virus - Plan Ahead
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15 Great Reasons to Breastfeed
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Breastfeeding Myths
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Estrogen's Effect on the Brain
Fear of Fracture
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Hormone Replacement Therapy
Menopause - What Men Should Know
Menopause and Your Moods
Menstrual Bleeding - Abnormal
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Third Generation Birth Control Pills
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Family Health Magazine - PHARMACY CARE

Your Medicine Cupboard
Supplies to keep you healthy

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. Organizing a medicine cupboard may take a little time, but it is handy to have supplies in one place when you are sick or hurt.

Organizing your medicine cupboard and medications

  • Do not store medicine in the bathroom because of the temperature changes and humidity. Medicines keep better in a dry, cool place.
    • Keep medications in their original containers so you know what the drug is and how to take it.
  • Go through your medicine cupboard and check for medications that are past the expiry date. Replace those that are too old. Remove medication you no longer use.
  • Check if the medicine has changed in appearance, texture, consistency, colour, or smell. If there has been a change, replace the medication 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.


You may want to keep certain over-the-counter items on hand in your medicine cupboard:

  • medications to relieve pain or fever like acetaminophen, and to soothe inflammation like ibuprofen or aspirin
    * Note: Use caution with ibuprofen or aspirin if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease or are on medications that affect blood clotting. Check with your pharmacist. Remember, aspirin should not be given to children or teenagers because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.
  • antihistamine for allergy relief
  • calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream 0.5 per cent to relieve itching
  • sunscreen
  • anti-diarrhea medicine, or antacids (check with your doctor or pharmacist).

Coughs and colds

With coughs and colds, it is harder to keep the right product stored in your medicine cupboard. A better plan is to ask your pharmacist for advice on a product that will treat your current symptoms. Do not choose a product that contains many ingredients to treat many symptoms. Instead, look closely at the label to find out what symptoms the product treats. Check the safety information for side effects, possible interactions with other drugs you may be taking, or health problems that this drug may affect.

Decongestants can relieve a stuffy nose. Nasal decongestant sprays or drops should be used for no more than three days. After that they tend to make nasal stuffiness worse instead of helping. A saline nasal spray or nasal rinse may help relieve congestion and can be used for an unlimited time. To ease a sore throat, throat lozenges or gargling with warm salt water may help.

If your cough has no mucus, try a cough suppressant like dextromethorphan. If your cough does have mucus, drink more water or use an expectorant like guaifenesin to help loosen it. Again, your pharmacist can help you to choose the right product.

First aid

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

  • a first aid manual
  • card with the phone number of your doctor, poison control centre, and EMS/9-1-1
  • home and office numbers of family members, friends or neighbours who can help
    gauze roll and individually packaged gauze dressings in small and large squares to place over wounds
  • non-allergenic tape to hold gauze in place without causing an allergic reaction
  • various sizes of adhesive bandages
  • roller and triangular bandages to hold dressing in place or to make an arm sling
  • sterile cotton balls and swabs
  • tweezers
  • eye patches
  • flashlight and extra batteries in a separate bag
  • antiseptic wipes or soap
  • antiseptic cream or ointment to prevent infection
  • instant ice packs
  • safety pins
  • blunt tipped scissors
  • disposable non-latex gloves such as surgical or examination gloves
  • thermometer
  • pencil and pad
  • a barrier device such as a pocket mask or face shield.

Wound care

The best method for cleaning a simple wound is to wash the cut with soap and water, or flush it gently with normal saline or tap water. Use no more water pressure 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 no longer recommended.

Skin care

If dry or itchy skin is a problem for you, many products are available to treat it. Remember that bathing or showering in warm water is a good idea, as hot water can dry skin. Apply a moisturizer to reduce dryness and irritation, making 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. As well, gently pat skin dry right away instead of letting water evaporate and dry it out. Use gentle cleansers and mild or moisturizing soaps.

When choosing a moisturizer, get past the fancy packaging of the product and read the ingredient label. Moisturizers with fragrance can irritate skin. Avoid products that list alcohol as one of the first few ingredients.
To reduce the evaporation of moisture from the outer layer of skin, moisturizers contain ingredients called occlusive agents. They give skin a look and feel that is soft and smooth. Occlusive agents include yellow or white petrolatum, lanolin, eucarin, wheat germ oil, olive oil, cocoa butter, simethicone, and dimethicone. They are usually 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 hydrate by drawing water to the top layer of the skin. Glycerine, propylene glycol, urea, butylene glycol, lactic acid, and lecithin all have this effect. Other common ingredients may include collagen, elastin, amino acids, proteins, aloe vera, allantoin, and liptosomes. Adding these does not help increase the moisture on your skin.
Moisturizers come in a wide selection of lotions, creams or ointments. Many are either oil in water or water in oil preparations. The oil in water mixture can cool and relieve itching. The water in oil combination has more oil in it. Less drying occurs through evaporation, but the moisturizer may feel greasy.

Vitamin and mineral supplements

Eating a well-balanced diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables can provide the vitamins and minerals you need. It is safe to take a daily multiple vitamin-mineral supplement that has no more than 100 per cent of the recommended daily allowances. If you choose to take a supplement, remember to keep eating in a healthy way. As well, taking in more vitamins and minerals is not necessarily better.

Protect vitamins 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.

Many people are interested in antioxidant vitamins and Omega fatty acids. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about which product would be best
for you.

Herbal products

The number of herbal products on the market continues to grow. You may wonder if these products are safe and effective. Remember that 'natural' is not the same as 'safe.' Herbal products can cause side effects, react with medication you may be taking, or cause other problems.

Talk your doctor or pharmacist before trying an herbal product and let your doctor know if you are taking one. Be sure to ask for advice before changing or adding to your medications. It is very important to continue taking prescription medications according to your doctor's directions.

Many products are available for home health care in your pharmacy. Having the right medication on hand can save both time and energy if you are sick or hurt. Whether you are choosing a product for immediate use or stocking your medicine cupboard, read the label carefully. Check to see if the new product reacts with any medicine that you are taking. Be sure it is safe for any medical condition you may have. If you have concerns or questions, ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice.

Dealing with Diabetes

While general advice still applies, people with diabetes need to be especially careful when stocking the medicine cupboard or dealing with injury. Over-the-counter drugs may interact with this condition or other medicines you take. It is always wise to check with your pharmacist.

Keep in mind that blood sugar levels can rise during an illness. You may not be eating regularly if you are not feeling well. If you are ill or injured, you must check your blood glucose levels more often than usual. You may also need to check your ketones if your blood glucose levels are high. Please refer to your Sick Day Management Guide available from your diabetes educator.

Cough and colds

  • Read the label to make sure you are only medicating your current symptoms. Your pharmacist can help you choose the right product.
  • Avoid cough and cold medicines containing alcohol.
  • Do not use medicines that contain sugar, such as sucrose, maltose, dextrose or fructose.
  • You do not need to account for the carbohydrate value of sugar-free products. Those containing sorbitol may cause diarrhea.
  • A saline nasal spray or nasal rinse may help to relieve congestion without affecting blood sugar levels and can be used for an unlimited time.
  • To ease a sore throat, sugarless throat lozenges or gargling with warm salt water may be helpful.
  • Follow the general guidelines given in the article for cough suppressants and expectorants, but choose a product that is sugar-free. Ask your pharmacist for advice.

First aid

  • Consider storing products to treat low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), such as Dex 4™ glucose tablets, glucose gel, or a Glucagon Emergency Kit™.
  • Have reactive strips on hand to test blood or urine for ketones if glucose levels are high.
  • You must be careful when caring for a wound or ulcer, as small wounds can soon become large. If healing is delayed or the wound has changed, contact your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor if you can use an antiseptic cream or ointment to prevent infection.

Foot care

  • Some products in the foot care section can be dangerous for people with diabetes. If you develop corns, calluses, or warts, do not treat them yourself at home. Do not cut corns or calluses or use over-the-counter chemicals on them. Instead, have your doctor or a podiatrist assess and treat foot problems.
  • You must maintain proper foot care to avoid foot problems. Protect your feet from injury by wearing shoes that fit well, and check daily inside the shoe for foreign objects or tears. Do not go barefoot. Wear clean cotton socks everyday, and align socks and seams carefully over your foot.
  • Once a day, wash your feet in tepid water, avoiding extreme water temperatures. Dry carefully, especially between toes. Look at and treat any dryness with a moisture-restoring cream or lotion. Avoid getting lotion between toes, as this may cause skin to tear and put you at risk of infection. The area between the toes is a haven for developing athlete's foot.
  • Check your feet daily. Inspect and feel the top and bottom of your feet and between toes. Look for anything that is different or injured. Check for blisters, cuts, redness, skin that is hard or broken, scratches, 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. Properly fitting shoes and foot powder for drying feet may help prevent blisters. If one forms, use moleskin or cushioning donuts to keep the pressure off until it heals.

Skin care

  • Dry or itchy skin is often a problem for those with diabetes. See the Skin Care section above for advice on how to manage it.

Herbal products

If you have diabetes, herbal products can cause particular problems.

  • Glucosamine may increase blood glucose levels by increasing insulin resistance or lowering insulin production.
  • The effect of ginseng, either panax or Siberian, in diabetes is unpredictable and may cause hypoglycemia.
  • Garlic, high doses of ginger, fenugreek, devil's claw, licorice root, burdock, chromium, and guar gum can affect blood glucose control. Monitor your blood glucose levels closely by doing more frequent testing, or avoid the herbal product.
  • Alpha lipoic acid may reduce the amount of insulin or oral diabetic medication required. Close monitoring of blood sugar levels is recommended.
    • Gotu kola can elevate blood glucose levels.

These are some of the known reactions. Other herbal products may be safe. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice before trying a new product.

FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
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    [PC_FHc11]
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